Protests continue in Iraq after deadly crackdown

Security forces fire tear gas in the Iraqi capital, a day after dozens were killed during anti-government rallies

Security forces have fired tear gas at protesters in the Iraqi capital on Saturday, a day after dozens of people were killed across the country during anti-government rallies. 

Hundreds of protesters converged in and around Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, vowing to remain on the streets until Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government resigned over its failure to address corruption, mass unemployment and poor public services.

“It’s enough – theft, looting, gangs, mafias, deep state, whatever. Get out! Let us see a [functioning] state,” one protester told reporters, as riot police tried to clear busy square.

“We don’t want anything, just let us live,” he added as smoke from tear gas rose behind him.

Since anti-government rallies first erupted on 1 October, nearly 200 people have died and thousands have been wounded in Baghdad and across the country.

At least 42 people died on Friday alone, from either live rounds, tear gas canisters or while torching government buildings or offices belonging to powerful paramilitary factions in several southern cities.

At least eight protesters were killed in Baghdad, five were killed in the southern city of Nasiriyah, and eleven died while setting fire to the headquarters of the Badr organisation, a powerful armed faction in Diwaniyah.

According to the Iraqi rights commission, at least 2,000 protesters were wounded across the country. 

The protesters, a cross-section of society, have been railing against widespread corruption, unemployment, lack of services and cronyism that has afflicted the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.

One in five Iraqis live below the poverty line, World Bank figures show, and youth unemployment sits at 25 percent.

‘They tricked us’

Abdul Mahdi has suggested a laundry list of measures, including hiring drives, increased pensions and a cabinet reshuffle – but the protesters seem unimpressed.

“They told young people: ‘go home, we’ll give you pensions and come up with a solution’,” a female protester said. “They tricked us.”

Some of the demonstrators have directed their anger at Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s top Shia religious authority, who is deeply revered among most Iraqis. 

Others have been waiting for signal from influential populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has thrown his weight behind protests.

On Friday, Sistani urged protesters and security forces to show “restraint”, warning of “chaos” if violence resumed.

“Sadr, Sistani – this is a shame,” a protester in Tahrir said on Saturday.

“We were hit! It’s enough,” he said, waving a tear gas canister fired earlier by security forces. 

Riot police had been trying to keep protesters around Tahrir from reaching the high-security Green Zone across the river, which hosts government offices including parliament.

Politicians are scheduled to meet at 1:00pm local time (10:00 GMT) to “discuss protesters’ demands, cabinet’s decisions and the implementation of reforms.”

Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi said he had visited Tahrir overnight, but many demonstrators have shunned the participation of mainstream politicians whom they see as trying to co-opt their movement. 

Source ; News Agencies

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