Iraqi security forces fired bullets and tear gas on Saturday in raids on protest camps in Baghdad and southern cities, killing four people and wounding dozens more, police and medical sources said.
The new push to end the sit-in protests and restore order came hours after populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has millions of supporters in Baghdad and the south, said he would end his involvement in anti-government unrest.
Sadr’s supporters, who had bolstered the protesters and sometimes helped shield them from attacks by security forces and unidentified gunmen, began withdrawing from sit-in camps early on Saturday after his announcement.
Clashes erupted later in the day as authorities removed concrete barriers near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, where demonstrators have camped out for months, and across at least one main bridge over the Tigris River, Reuters reporters said.
In the southern city of Basra, demonstrators began returning to the main protest site following a raid by security forces the night before, burning tires and cutting off a main road, security sources said. At least 16 protesters were arrested.
In the capital, at least one person was killed and more than 30 hurt as police and protesters clashed near Tahrir Square.
Another three died and 14 were wounded in the southern city of Nassiriya when security forces seized back control of a bridge occupied for days by demonstrators, security sources and medics said.
Iraqi security forces have used tear gas and live ammunition against mostly peaceful protesters since the unrest broke out in Baghdad on Oct. 1. More than 450 people have died in the violence, according to a Reuters tally from police and medics.