Iraq protests: 21 dead as mass unrest descends into violence

At least 21 people have been killed in Iraq during a fresh wave of anti-government protests that have descended into violence.

Two of the dead were reportedly hit by tear gas canisters fired by security forces in the capital Baghdad.

Reports say half of the victims were killed while trying to storm a militia group’s offices in two southern cities.

Hundreds have been injured in nationwide protests that erupted on Friday, reports say.

Protesters are demanding more jobs, better public services and an end to corruption.

Similar protests earlier this month were brutally put down by security forces, leaving nearly 150 people dead.

A government report has acknowledged that authorities used excessive force in quelling that unrest.

Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, used his weekly sermon on Friday to call for restraint.

A day earlier Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who took office a year ago on Friday, warned protesters that violence would not be tolerated.

He has promised a cabinet reshuffle and a package of reforms to address protesters’ demands but many remain unconvinced.

What’s the latest?

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Friday morning.

When some tried to enter the Green Zone, where government buildings are based, security forces used tear gas to drive them back.

Iraqi security forces stand in front of demonstrators during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad, Iraq October 25, 2019
Image captionIraqi security forces blocked protesters as they tried to reach government buildings
Iraqi protesters run for cover as security forces use tear gas to disperse the crowd in central Baghdad during anti-government demonstrations in the Iraqi capital on October 25, 2019
Image captionDemonstrators ran for cover as police fired tear gas

Police and medical sources told Reuters news agency that two demonstrators had died after being struck by tear gas canisters.

About 1,800 people, the sources added, were wounded in protests nationwide.

There is no official confirmation of the figures. However, pictures from Baghdad did show at least one person, apparently hit by a canister, lying motionless on the street.

The Iraqi interior ministry said 68 members of the security forces were injured across the country.

Demonstrators disperse as Iraqi security forces use tear gas in Baghdad
Image captionDemonstrators disperse as Iraqi security forces use tear gas in Baghdad

The government’s handling of the protests this month has fuelled discontent across Iraq, with political leaders facing calls to resign.

“We’re not hungry, we want dignity,” shouted one marcher. Another said that Iraq’s politicians had “monopolised all the resources”.

Protesters have called on the Shia-led government to overhaul Iraq’s sectarian political system, in which power is shared along religious and ethnic lines.

Elsewhere, as unrest spread through Iraq’s southern cities:

  • About 3,000 protesters broke into a government building in Dhi Qar province
  • Guards protecting a Shia militia group’s offices in Maysan province opened fire, wounding at least six
  • Protesters set fire to a Shia political party’s offices in Muthanna province
  • A curfew was imposed in several southern provinces
Anti-government protesters march through flood waters in the city of Najaf
Image captionAnti-government protesters march through flood waters in the city of Najaf

What’s the background?

The protests started in Baghdad on 1 October. Most of those taking part were young and unemployed.

After security forces used live ammunition against demonstrators, the unrest escalated and spread to other cities and towns.

Media captionVideo from early October shows protesters fleeing from Iraqi security forces

A government committee that was tasked with investigating the violence said 149 civilians and eight security personnel had been killed in protests between 1 and 6 October.

The committee concluded that “officers and commanders lost control over their forces during the protests” and that this “caused chaos”.

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