Rockets hit Iraqi capital’s highly fortified Green Zone after protests turn violent
Two rockets landed in Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone on Saturday night following clashes at anti-government protests that left five people dead, according to Iraqi security and hospital officials.
There were no injuries from the rockets, which landed on the parade grounds in the center of the highly fortified Baghdad compound that is home to Iraq’s government offices and most foreign embassies. It was not immediately clear who fired the projectiles.
Saturday’s protests were instigated by influential cleric Muqtada Sadr and clashes that erupted as crowds pushed toward the Green Zone left two policeman and three protesters dead, according to police and hospital officials.
The officials said six other policemen were injured along with dozens of protesters.
The demonstrators loyal to Sadr gathered in Baghdad’s downtown Tahrir Square to demand an overhaul of the commission overseeing local elections scheduled this year. Sadr has accused the commission of being riddled with corruption and has called for its overhaul.
Shots rang out in central Baghdad as security forces used live fire and tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists said the policemen died of gunshot wounds. They gave no details as to the cause of death of the protesters.
While at times the crowds advanced toward the Green Zone, by afternoon they began to disperse after a statement from Sadr’s office called on his followers to refrain from trying to enter the compound.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi ordered an investigation into the violence.
“The prime minister ordered a full investigation into the injuries among security forces and protesters during the demonstration today in Tahrir Square,” read a statement from Abadi’s office Saturday evening.
Sadr’s office issued another statement Saturday night following news of protester casualties claiming that “excessive force” was used against the demonstrators and threatened greater protests. “The next time the blood of our martyrs will not go in vain,” the statement read.
“We will not give in to threats,” said the head of the electoral commission, Serbat Mustafa, in an interview with a local Iraqi television channel Saturday afternoon. Mustafa said he would not offer his resignation and accused Sadr of using the commission as a political “scapegoat.”
Sadr has been a vocal critic of Abadi, and last year protests that included many of his followers breached the Green Zone twice.
Attention in Iraq is generally focused on the war against the Islamic State group, with Iraqi forces currently fighting the militants in Mosul, but Abadi is also facing a serious power struggle in Baghdad. A deepening economic crisis and persistent insurgent attacks in the capital have fueled support for powerful political opponents of Abadi like Sadr.
Abadi has said that he respects the rights of all Iraqis to peacefully demonstrate but called on the protesters Saturday to obey the law and respect public and private property.
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