Iraqi forces use tear gas in Baghdad as protests continue | New

Iraqi security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the capital, Baghdad, ahead of a planned march against parliament where the government is due to hold an emergency session to discuss resuming the deadly protests.

Despite police efforts to eliminate them, hundreds of protesters took refuge around Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Saturday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government for corruption, mass unemployment and poor public services.

Natasha Ghoneim of Al Jazeera, reporting from the protest site, said the mood in Baghdad was tense after security forces opened fire on protesters in the capital and several southern towns the day before, killing at least 42 people.

“People here are furious. Some are trying to storm the barricades leading to the green zone, where the government offices and the parliament building are located, ”she said.

“They want the government to leave. The security forces use a lot of tear gas and stun grenades. “

Calls for further protests were also made in the south, despite authorities announcing curfews in several provinces on Saturday.

Lawmakers are due to meet in parliament at 1:00 p.m. (10:00 GMT) to “discuss protesters’ demands, cabinet decisions and the implementation of reforms.”

Iraqi protesters gather on the Al-Jumhuriyah bridge in the capital Baghdad on Saturday [AFP]

The Iraqi Human Rights Commission said the death toll in Friday’s protests stood at 42. It said more than 2,300 people were injured.

The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, on Friday praised what it called the restraint of the security forces.

“Security forces have protected protests and protesters responsibly and with great restraint, refraining from using firearms or excessive force against protesters,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday. communicated.

The unrest came three weeks after a previous round of rallies, in which more than 150 people were killed in a crackdown by security forces.

People gathered in Tahrir Square said they found it difficult to understand what they called the excessive use of force by security forces, saying all they wore were flags and water to fight tear gas and rinse eyes.

“Just yesterday we lost over 30 men… We need a safe country,” said Batoul, a 21-year-old protester.

“We want to literally have a life. It’s not about jobs or money, it’s about being in a good country that we deserve. We have a big country but not a big government, ”she told Al Jazeera.

Protests in BaghdadAnti-government protesters gather for protest in Baghdad, Iraq on Saturday [Hadi Mizban/AP]

Another protester denounced the corruption and cronyism perceived in the country.

“Enough – theft, looting, gangs, mafias, deep state, whatever. Go out! Let’s see a (working) state, “he told AFP news agency, as puffs of tear gas smoke rose behind him.

The ongoing unrest has shattered nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq, which in recent years has suffered an invasion by the United States and prolonged fighting, notably against the armed group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).

The protests have posed the biggest challenge to date for the one-year-old government of Abdul Mahdi, which has pledged to respond to protesters’ grievances by reshuffling his cabinet and proposing a package of reforms.

These steps, however, failed to appease the protesters, whose anger is not only focused on Abdul Mahdi’s administration, but also on the wider Iraqi political establishment, which they say has failed. failed to improve the lives of the country’s citizens.

Dozens dead as anti-government protests take over Iraq (2:29)

Many see the political elite as subservient to either of Iraq’s two main allies, the United States and Iran – powers they say are more concerned with exerting regional influence than the needs of ordinary Iraqis.

Almost three-fifths of the 40 million Iraqis live on less than six dollars a day, according to World Bank figures, despite the country being home to the fifth-largest proven oil reserves in the world.

Sami Hamdi, editor-in-chief of British magazine International Interest, said Iraq has seen similar mass protests in the past, but they have dissipated due to a lack of leadership.

“And the other dynamic that many are talking about or not talking about, which is painful to say is that Iraqi society itself is very divided. Many Iraqis voted in elections across sectarian lines, and so this produced a sectarian government. These parties rewarded their loyalists with public sector jobs, ”he said.

“While the protesters are united on their basic rights, they are not united on who should give them to them.”

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