An armed drone fired a rocket at the home of an influential Iraqi cleric just hours after at least 25 protesters were killed when gunmen opened fire in Baghdad.
The drone attack, which caused little damage and left no casualties, followed a deadly attack by armed men near Baghdad’s main protest site on Friday.
Nearly 130 were wounded by gunfire and stabbings targeting anti-government protesters at the Sinak bridge near Tahrir Square, sources said.
Al-Sadr, who has supported the protests, was in Iran at the time of the drone attack on his home in the southern holy city of Najaf, a source in his office said.
A protester holds a blood-stained flag at the site of a gunmen attack in Baghdad, Iraq on Saturday
Gunmen in cars opened fire in Baghdad on Friday, killing 25 and wounding scores of people
However, a spokesman for his party said the incidents were aimed at pressuring both protesters and political leaders to accept whichever candidate is nominated for the premiership by the ruling elite.
‘The Sinak massacre and the bombing of [Sadr’s home] is geared at pushing the acceptance of the candidate for prime minister,’ said Jaafar Al-Mousawi.
Thousands of Iraqis have occupied the central square and three nearby bridges which lead to the city’s Green Zone for weeks, calling for the complete uprooting of the current political system.
The weekend’s attacks marked a drastic escalation to quell the demonstrations, the country’s largest in decades. More than 430 people have been killed since protests began on October 1.
Security sources said they could not identify the gunmen who attacked protesters on Friday night.
The assailants first unleashed an assault on Baghdad’s Khilani Square and Sinak Bridge, driving through areas at the centre of the popular uprising. Protesters said the electricity in the square was cut, creating chaos as they ran from bullets and took cover in nearby mosques and streets.
The attack included the burning of a car park that demonstrators had converted into a base for their sit-in, while surrounding buildings in the square were covered in bullet holes.
The incident was followed by further intimidation early on Saturday morning, as more unknown gunmen drove in a convoy down the main riverside street which leads to Tahrir Square, firing a volley of shots towards it.
An Iraqi demonstrator waves a large national flag in the capital Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, amid ongoing anti-government protests
Mourners carry the coffin of a demonstrator, who was killed at an anti-government protest overnight in Baghdad
Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of parliament’s Sairoon bloc, said a drone had attacked his home in the holy city of Najaf on Saturday
The heavily armed, masked gunmen roamed the street near Tahrir Square and attempted to advance onto it but were eventually turned around at a checkpoint manned by Iraq’s security forces, witnesses said.
‘They fired intensely, mercilessly on the protesters,’ one witness said. ‘They wouldn’t let us evacuate the wounded. It was slaughter.’
Three among the 25 dead were policeman and the rest were protesters, officials said.
On Saturday, protesters raised a bloodied white flag as they sought to return to the scene. One was seen collecting the spent cartridges, and he held out at least a dozen.
The incidents were the most violent flare-ups in the capital for weeks and came days after Iraqi’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, said he would resign following two months of anti-government protests.
Hours earlier, Washington had imposed sanctions on three Iranian-backed paramilitary leaders who it accused of directing the killing of Iraqi protesters.
A senior US Treasury official suggested the sanctions were timed to distance those figures from any role in forming a new government.
Protesters gather at the site of a gunmen attack which killed at least 25 on Saturday
Iraqi protesters carry a banner which reads ‘The blood of martyrs is entrusted to us, it will not be in vain’ during a march in Tahrir Square in the capital Baghdad on Saturday
A protester with an injury that was sustained during recent clashes stands behind concrete blocks that separate protesters from riot police on Saturday
Diplomats in Baghdad were shocked at the violence, with the European Union’s ambassador Martin Huth saying he was ‘outraged and deeply saddened at last night’s killings.’
British ambassador Stephen Hickey called on the government to ‘protect protesters and take urgent steps to hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable.’
Iraqi authorities have pledged to pursue any security force members responsible for violence against protesters but there has been little accountability so far.
The country has a complex security apparatus including the military, various police forces and the Hashed al-Shaabi, a mostly Shia network including factions backed by Iran.
The Hashed initially backed Iraq’s government against the protests, but switched sides after an intervention by the country’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. This sparked concern among protesters, worried that the show of force could destabilise their movement.
The rallies have already brought down the prime minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, and the heads of Iraq’s main political blocs have been huddled this week to agree on a new premier.
Sistani insisted on Friday he was not part of those talks but urged they take place with no ‘foreign interference,’ an apparent warning to Iran, Iraq’s influential neighbour.