Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s insistences that the violent moves against protesters were just a function of overzealous security forces is falling apart tonight, on the eve of what is expected to be another Friday filled with nationwide rallies.
That is because reports from the scenes of some of the protests, particularly in the Sunni part of the country, say that a special forces unit loyal to Maliki has been showing up at protests, beating demonstrators and journalists, and rounding up protest leaders to be held in detention centers.
The force has also closed off entire Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad to prevent protesters from getting out to join the broader protests. They attacked journalists attempting to enter the neighborhood to cover what was happening.
At least 29 people were killed over the course of last Friday’s protests, though the US embassy praised Maliki for allowing “peaceful protests.” The White House later expressed concern about the reports of violence.
A new round of such protests are expected on Friday, and once again the threats of crackdowns and preemptive curfews have set the stage for what could be a major clash between the regime and an increasingly disillusioned Iraqi public.