Iraqi forces push back protesters in main square, kill five


BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces killed at least five people on Saturday as they pushed protesters back to their main camp in central Baghdad using live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs, reported announced the police and doctors.

Protesters take part in ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq on November 9, 2019. REUTERS / Alaa al-Marjani

The clashes left more and more wounded and allowed the security forces to regain control of all, except for a major bridge connecting the residential and commercial districts of the east of the Iraqi capital to the headquarters of the government on the other side of the Tiger.

The government has promised reforms aimed at getting out of the crisis. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Saturday that political parties had “made mistakes” in their management of the country, recognized the legitimacy of the protest to bring about political change and promised electoral reform.

Mass protests began in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on October 1 as protesters demanded jobs and services, and escalated in the capital and southern cities with calls for an overhaul of the sectarian political system.

It is the biggest and most complex challenge in years to the political order put in place after a US-led invasion that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Iraq, exhausted by decades of conflict and sanctions, had experienced relative calm after the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.

But the government has been unable to find an answer to the current wave of unrest pitting the entire political class against mostly unemployed young people who have seen no improvement in their lives, even in peacetime. .

Despite promises of government reform, security forces have used lethal force from the start and killed more than 280 people across the country.

On Saturday, forces pushed protesters back from some of the bridges they had attempted to occupy during the week and to Tahrir Square, the main meeting point for protesters.

Protesters still hold part of the adjacent Jumhuriya Bridge where they erected barricades in a confrontation with police.

But protesters fear the next target will be Tahrir Square and the Jumhuriya Bridge. New clashes erupted after dark near Tahrir Square, with the sound of tear gas and stun grenades being fired echoing through central Baghdad, as has happened every night for the past two weeks .

“The police took over almost the entire area in front of us. They are moving forward and I guess tonight they will try to take Tahrir, ”said one protester, who only gave his name as Abdullah.

THE PROMISED REFORM, THE HANGERS WERE

Some protesters threw Molotov cocktails at security forces on another bridge on Saturday, and young men brought unlit Molotov cocktails to a nearby tower, bracing for further clashes.

At a nearby makeshift clinic, volunteer nurse Manar Hamad said she helped treat dozens of injured on Saturday alone.

“Many are hit by shrapnel from sound bombs and others choke on tear gas or are hit directly by gas canisters. People have died that way, ”she said as live ammunition rang out and ambulance sirens roared.

Police and medics said five people were shot dead and more than 140 injured in Baghdad on Saturday. A Reuters cameraman saw a man carried away by medical volunteers after a tear gas canister hit him directly in the head.

As violence erupted, Abdul Mahdi issued a statement that seemed to take on a more conciliatory tone and urged a return to normal life after weeks of unrest that cost the country tens of millions of dollars, although exports of crucial oil were not affected.

“Political forces and parties are important institutions in any democratic system and have made great sacrifices, but they have also made many mistakes,” he said.

He said the protests were a legitimate engine for political change, but urged protesters not to interrupt “normal life”.

Abdul Mahdi pledged electoral reform and said authorities would ban the possession of weapons by non-state armed groups who have been accused of killing protesters, and that there would be inquiries into the deaths of protesters.

His remarks came a day after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s powerful Shia Muslim cleric, urged politicians to seek a peaceful end to the crisis and held security forces accountable for avoiding further violence.

In southern Iraq, operations resumed at the Umm Qasr cargo port, a port official said, after it was closed for nearly 10 days as protesters blocked its entrances.

Umm Qasr receives imports of grains, vegetable oils and sugar which feed a country largely dependent on imported food.

Authorities in downtown Basra, Iraq’s second oil-rich city, erected a security perimeter, preventing protesters from gathering on Saturday, after two people were killed there on Friday in clashes between protesters and forces. of security.

Kuwait’s consulate in Basra has announced it is withdrawing staff from the city amid the deteriorating security situation, a consular official said.

Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Aboulenein, Raya Jalabi and Reuters Video News; Written by Raya Jalabi and John Davison; Editing by Frances Kerry and James Drummond


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