Tensions have been high in Iraq amid concerns over the eruption of an inter-Shiite conflict in central and southern provinces of the country.
The fears were heightened in wake of violent clashes that had erupted between supporters of the Sadrist movement, of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and anti-government protesters in the city of Nasiriya last week.
A government crisis cell arrived in the city in an attempt to defuse the situation. The cell was formed by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to contain the tensions after some 100 people were killed and injured in last week’s clashes.
The cell is comprised of senior officials from the security agencies, including national security advisor Qassem al-Araji and head of national security Abdul Ghani al-Asadi.
Ahead of arriving in the city, Araji had tweeted that he will restore security and safety in the Dhi Qar province, where Nasiriya is located, and avert strife.
According to a statement from Kadhimi’s office, the cell will be tasked with “managing the affairs of the province and upholding security.” It has been granted vast privileges to carry out its mission.
Observers, however, were skeptical that the cell would succeed in containing the tensions in Dhi Qar, citing pervious government missions that had failed.
They noted the government’s failure to determine the fate of activist Sajjad al-Iraqi, who was kidnapped in September and whose whereabouts are still unknown in spite of Baghdad’s efforts.
Such failures have only fueled speculation that inter-Shiite clashes are imminent. Tensions and a state of “enmity” already prevail among popular powers that resent the state and factions that have compounded poverty in the province.
Tensions are also high with armed factions that want to “reclaim their previous glory” after anti-government protesters burned down most of their headquarters in southern provinces during the 2019 popular uprising.
Moreover, the protesters accused the Sadrist movement of seeking, through its force of arms, to disperse the remaining protest squares after it had succeeded in doing so in Baghdad’s Tahrir square.
The protesters have escalated their campaign against the movement and its leader, describing them as an integral part of the corrupt ruling authority that they blame for the dire state of affairs in Iraq.
Tensions have not been limited to Dhi Qar, but have spread to include other provinces, including Baghdad, where student marches were held on Sunday.
The students voiced their support for the protests in Nasiriya, condemning last week’s attack against them by the Sadrists. Similar marches were held in the Babel, al-Diwaniyah, Maysan and Waset provinces.
The Victory alliance, headed by former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, expressed its concern over the developments in the South.
In a statement, it rejected “all political and social clashes”, warning that bloodshed will undermine security, stability and national unity.
It voiced its support of the right to hold peaceful rallies and the right of all political forces to express their positions on them without resorting to force.
It called on all sides to look forward to holding “transparent elections that would build a new ruling national authority that can take the country out of its crises.”