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Protesters ‘detained and tortured’ by Sadr’s ‘blue hats’ in Tahrir Square

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Protesters who claim they were threatened and tortured by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s armed militiamen in Baghdad are fleeing to Erbil to avoid being jailed under Iraq’s counterterrorism law.

Ibrahim al-Jabiry, the head of Sadr’s office in Baghdad, has strongly rejected the accusations of torture. 

Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam militia, known as the ‘blue hats’ for their distinctive headwear, had been participating in Iraq’s nationwide anti-government protests to protect the movement from armed pro-government factions.

The blue hats were an essential part of the movement since it began on October 1 last year. However, on January 24, Sadr ordered them to withdraw as he threw his support behind the new prime minister designate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi. 

As a result, Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias attack the protesters in Baghdad and other southern and central cities, burning their tents and abducting activists. 

In early February, the blue hats returned to Tahrir Square to rejoin the movement after Sadr appeared to flip in the protesters’ favor once more.  

Now it appears the blue hats are attempting to seize control of the movement, occupying public spaces previously held by the protesters, including the iconic ‘Turkish Restaurant’ tower next to Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.

Muthana*, 26 and from Kirkuk, was among the protesters occupying the Turkish Restaurant. He told Rudaw English on Friday that he and two other protesters guarding the tower had received death threats from Sadrists after refusing to let them issue a statement from its public platform on February 1. 

The blue hats returned to the Turkish Restaurant later the same day and took it by force.
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