Iraqi protest leaders launch political bloc ahead of elections

A new party aimed at challenging Iraq's political class and representing the country's youth has been launched by the activists who fronted a mass protest movement in 2019. 

A prominent leader of the "October Revolution," Dr Alaa al-Rikabi, announced at a press conference on Friday that the new Imtidad Movement would "confront the corruption of the current regime" in parliamentary elections in June. 

He said the name referred to the party being an "extension" of the protest movement, which began in October 2019 and encouraged mass protests around the country until the coronavirus pandemic limited their ability to mobilise. 

The Voice of Iraq publication reported that Rikabi announced the new party in nearby Samawah, instead of Nasriyah city, where he is based, because of fears about attacks from rival parties. 

Tensions flared in Nasiriyah recently when security forces opened fire on protesters who had occupied a square in the city's centre, in which they had previously camped out until November, when they were removed and eight people were killed in clashes. 

Protesters reoccupied the square a week ago, demanding the release of peers arrested in recent weeks. A policeman was killed in resulting clashes. On the same day, a senior lawyer and activist in Nasiriyah was killed during a raid on his home. 

The youth-led protest movement focused on corruption, unemployment and on confronting the political elite, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. His replacement, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has been accused of failing to deliver on promises. 

Kadhimi called for June's elections a year ahead of their scheduled date, in line with the protest movement's demands. The protests fizzled out last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a crackdown that left nearly 600 dead and 30,000 wounded. 

However, kidnappings, targeted killings and arrests of protest leaders have continued, with many activists facing kidnapping and assassination by armed groups over their involvement in the anti-government protests. 

By Kaamil Ahmed

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