Late on the afternoon of 5 February, members of the Sadrists Blue Hats stormed a sit-in site at Sadrain Square in Najaf city. Local reports cited that altercations escalated after the Sadrists were refused entry to the square. Protesters armed with sticks and likely other improvised weapons attempted to resist the assault for approximately one hour, but they were targeted with small arms fire and flash-bang grenades and forced to flee. A number of sit-in tents were torched with Molotov cocktails. The Water Resources Directorate building in the vicinity was also set on fire.
The Blue Hats reportedly took control over the square following the attack, while protesters denounced the assault and the inaction of security forces. Social media reports cited that militiamen deployed in nearby neighborhoods and detained a number of local activists.
Casualty figures cited by the media as a result of these events varied, likely reflecting both the dynamic character of these developments and associated political sensitivity. The majority of reports cited that at least eight protesters were killed, in addition to one Blue Hats member. According to medical sources, a total of 113-125 protester were wounded. The Governor of Najaf said that 117 people were killed or injured in total. On 6 February, reports citing the Najaf Health Directorate claimed that 23 people were killed, while as many as 197 were injured, including 16 in serious condition. However, these figures remain to be confirmed by official sources. Other updates during the day cited that 11 people were killed and 210 were injured. Najaf Police Chief Brigadier Faiq al-Fir’awn reportedly sustained a minor injury while security forces intervened to control the clashes.
The events on 5 February form the most significant escalation of violence between Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters and protesters since the beginning of anti-government demonstrations in October with considerable connotations as discussed in detail in our full report.