BAGHDAD, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) -- Unknown gunmen assassinated a leading figure of the prominent Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq's southern city of Basra, a local police source said on Thursday.
The gunmen shot dead al-Sheikh Hazim al-Halfi, a leader of al-Sadr movement, while he was returning home from his work on a main road in Basra, some 550 km south of Baghdad, said Hussein Abdul Amir from Basra police command.
The attackers fled the area after the shooting, while the security forces rushed to the scene and launched an investigation into the incident, Abdul Amir said.
The attack came as tensions run high in the southern provinces as anti-government protests turned violent after the followers of al-Sadr attacked the demonstrators in several Iraqi cities, including the holy Shiite city of Najaf, some 160 km south of the capital Baghdad.
On Wednesday, clashes between al-Sadr followers and demonstrators erupted when al-Sadr militiamen stormed al-Sadrain Square in Najaf and set fire to the sit-in tents, sparking clashes that resulted in the killing of up to eight protesters and the wounding of some 100 protesters and al-Sadr followers, according to latest police reports.
Mass anti-government demonstrations have been continuing in Baghdad and other cities in central and southern Iraq since October of 2019, demanding comprehensive reform, fight against corruption, better public services and more jobs.