NASSIRIYA, Iraq (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya say they will not back down despite the destruction of their camp by gunmen in an attack that left at least two people dead.
Unidentified gunmen in four vehicles tore through the camp late on Sunday and set the protesters’ tents on fire, police and medical sources said. The incident came a day after security forces had made a violent nationwide attempt to close down such settlements.
The protesters said they now intended to make their camp more permanent and on Tuesday they began to clear the ruins and build new huts out of bricks and mortar that would provide better protection.
“After they burned our tents, we started building with bricks. And if they destroy the brick-built camp, we will use the bricks of our houses, I swear by God. We do all that for the sake of our motherland, Iraq,” said one protester, who declined to give his name.
Mass protests against corruption, economic decline and foreign political interference have rocked Iraq since October.
Nearly 500 people have been killed while demonstrating against the largely Iranian-backed ruling elite. After a lull this month, protests resumed in Baghdad and other cities, including Nassiriya, Basra and Najaf.
Nassiriya has been a major flashpoint with frequent violent clashes between protesters and security forces.
As they began to put their protest camp back together, volunteers turned al-Haboubi square in central Nassiriya into a construction site. A giant billboard overlooking the scene reads: “The fearful do not create freedom”.
“We will build with bricks, and if they destroy bricks, we will build with concrete. Iraqis won’t step back until they regain all rights,” another protester said.
(Reporting by Maher Nazeh; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Giles Elgood)