23 killed in protests during past days in Iraq

Cheryl Sanders
November 9, 2019

The bloodshed came after political leaders agreed to rally around Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, whose embattled government was threatened by the largest and deadliest grassroots protests in Iraq in decades.

In Basra, seven protesters were killed in confrontations on Thursday and early Friday, with security forces trying to reopen roads blocked by sit-ins, medical sources said.

Protesters are now on the backfoot but still occupy part of Al-Jumhuriyah (Republic) Bridge, the southernmost of the capital's bridges and the closest to Tahrir. Human rights groups have issued increasingly anxious statements about the tactics being used against unarmed, largely peaceful protesters.

Anti-corruption protests and a heavy-handed security response have resulted so far in more than 250 deaths.

"Even if it comes down to the last man, we have to enter the Green Zone and bring it down", another protester shouted.

Abdul Mahdi promised electoral reform and said authorities would ban possession of weapons by non-state armed groups who have been accused of killing protesters, and that there would be investigations in demonstrator deaths.

When the protests erupted, Sadr threw his weight behind them while the Hashed backed the government.

The clashes wounded scores more people and put security forces back in control of all except one major bridge linking the Iraqi capital's eastern residential and business districts to government headquarters across the Tigris river.

The main lines of defence remain the bridges, where security forces have built up barricades, fired volleys of tear gas and stun grenades and resumed using live ammunition.

Amnesty International said it has found the military-grade tear gas canisters were Serbian- or Iranian-made.

Activists and medics say they have been subject to a campaign of intimidation, with two activists killed in Missan on Wednesday by unknown assailants. The demonstrators complain of widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, including regular power cuts despite Iraq's vast oil reserves.

The premier has proposed a series of reforms to appease protesters, including hiring drives, raising welfare and launching infrastructure projects.

One in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, according to World Bank figures.

Iraq fought a war with neighbouring Iran in the 1980s, was invaded by US-led forces in 2003 and waged a brutal battle against the militant Islamic State group that ended in late 2017.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shiite-majority Iraq, held security forces accountable for any violent escalation and urged the government to respond as quickly as possible to demonstrators' demands.

Late on Friday the military said 17 rockets had landed near a base hosting USA forces in northern Iraq.

Other reports by iNewsToday