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15 killed after shooting in Baghdad square

Protesters are occupying parts of Baghdad in a stand-off with security forces.

Anti-government protesters gather near barriers set up by security forces in Baghdad (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Anti-government protesters gather near barriers set up by security forces in Baghdad (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

Gunmen in cars opened fire in central Baghdad, leaving at least 15 people dead and 60 wounded, Iraqi security and medical officials said.

At least two of the dead were police officers.

Protesters fearing for their lives ran from Khilani Square to nearby Tahrir Square and mosques to take cover.

It was not immediately clear who did the shooting.

The attack came as anti-government demonstrators occupied parts of Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahar bridges in a stand-off with security forces.

All the bridges lead to or near the heavily-fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government.

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People hold national flags in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq (Hadi Mizban/AP)

“We are under live fire now with electric power cut, the wounded and martyrs are here and the bullets were fired in Sinak Bridge,” said one protester.

The attack came a day after a string of suspicious stabbing incidents targeting demonstrators left at least 13 wounded in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Iraq’s leaderless protest movement.

Those attacks by unknown perpetrators occurred as demonstrators supporting political parties and Iran-backed militias withdrew from the square.

The incidents on Thursday fuelled paranoia among protesters, who immediately implemented self-security measures to uncover saboteurs within the square.

At least 400 people have died since the leaderless uprising shook Iraq on October 1, with thousands of Iraqis taking to the streets in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite southern Iraq decrying corruption, poor services, lack of jobs and calling for an end to the political system that was imposed after the 2003 US invasion.

Security forces dispersed crowds with live fire, tear gas and sonic bombs, leading to fatalities.

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Anti-government protesters wave a flag while standing on a building near Tahrir Square earlier this month (Hadi Mizban/AP)

Earlier, Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority called for the formation of a new government within the allotted 15-day deadline, and without foreign interference, as the clock ticks down on politicians to select a new premier following the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi last week.

“We hope the head of the new government and its members are chosen within the constitutional deadline and according to the aspirations of the people and away from outside influence,” the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in his weekly Friday sermon in the holy city of Najaf.

The sermon is always delivered by a representative.

He added that the Shiite religious establishment would not take part in the government formation process.

Since the US invasion of 2003, government formation in Iraq has been based on brokering consensus among political factions and their foreign allies, primarily the US. and Iran. P

President Barham Salih launched talks immediately after Mr Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation by making rounds with different political blocs.

Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the architect of its regional security apparatus, also came to Baghdad to meet with key officials.

Politicians made headway in passing a key reform bill to change the membership of Iraq’s controversial Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the body tasked with overseeing polls, in a session on Thursday night.

Anti-government protesters consider IHEC a corrupt and partisan institution and its commissioners working in favour of political parties.

The new law seeks to select commissioners primarily from the judiciary.

Protesters are also calling for early elections and reforms to have a greater influence in electing their representatives.

PA

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