Iraqi police fire live rounds, tear gas as Baghdad protests flare anew
Iraqi police fired live rounds into the air and dozens of tear gas canisters on Friday to disperse thousands of protesters in the streets of Baghdad, sending young demonstrators running for cover and covering the capital’s bridge with thick white smoke.
More than 30 people were taken to hospitals with breathing difficulties, security officials said.
The confrontations began early in the morning after anti-government demonstrations resumed following a three-week hiatus. The protests began Oct. 1 over corruption, unemployment and lack of basic services but quickly turned deadly as security forces cracked down, using live ammunition for days.
The protests then spread to several mainly Shiite-populated southern provinces, and authorities imposed a curfew and shut down the internet for days in an effort to quell the unrest.
After a week of violence in the capital and the country’s southern provinces, a government-appointed inquiry into the protests determined that security forces had used excessive force, killing 149 people and wounding over 3,000. Eight members of the security forces were also killed.
The protests, unprecedented in their scale, threatened to plunge Iraq into a new cycle of instability that potentially could be the most dangerous this conflict-scarred nation has faced, barely two years after declaring victory over Islamic State.
Subsequently, Iraqi security forces and government officials vowed to avoid further deadly violence and deployed heavily on the streets of Baghdad in anticipation of Friday’s protests.
As in the protests earlier this month, the protesters, organized on social media, started from the central Tahrir Square. The demonstrators, mostly young, unemployed men, carried Iraqi flags and chanted anti-government slogans, demanding jobs, water and electricity.
“I want my country back, I want Iraq back,” said Ban Soumaydai, 50, an employee at the Iraqi Education Ministry, who wore black jeans, a white T-shirt and carried an Iraqi flag.
However, after thousands of protesters crossed the Jumhuriyya Bridge leading to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices, soldiers fired at first just tear gas, then live rounds to push back the protesters after they removed concrete barriers in an effort to reach the Green Zone’s entrance.
“Baghdad hurra hurra, fasad barra barra,” they chanted, Arabic for “Baghdad is free, corruption is out.”
Riot police in full gear and armed soldiers lined the bridge. Ambulances zipped back and forth, ferrying the injured to hospitals for treatment.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has struggled to deal with the protests.
He gave an address to the nation in the early hours Friday, promising a government reshuffle next week and pledging reforms. He told protesters they have a right to peaceful demonstrations and called on security forces to protect the protests.
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