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23 killed in fresh anti-government protests in Iraq

The protests threaten to plunge the country into a new cycle of instability.

Iraqi security forces fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters (Hadi Mizban/AP)
Iraqi security forces fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters (Hadi Mizban/AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

At least 23 people have been killed in anti-government protests in Baghdad and other provinces in the country’s Shiite-dominated south.

Officials say the dead include eight protesters who were killed in the capital. The remaining deaths were in Basra, Nasiriyah, Misan and Muthanna.

Most of the deaths occurred as a result of tear gas canisters that were fired directly at protesters, as well as rubber bullets and live ammunition.

The confrontations began after anti-government demonstrations resumed, following a three-week hiatus.

The protests began on October 1 over corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services but quickly turned deadly as security forces cracked down, using live ammunition for days.

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Protesters open the bridge leading to the Green Zone in Baghdad (Hadi Mizban/AP)

The protests then spread to several, mainly Shiite-populated southern provinces and authorities imposed a curfew and shut down the internet for days in an effort to quell the unrest.

After a week of violence in the capital and the country’s southern provinces, a government-appointed inquiry into the protests determined that security forces had used excessive force, killing 149 people and wounding more than 3,000.

It also recommended the firing of security chiefs in Baghdad and the south. Eight members of the security forces were also killed.

The protests are similar to those that have engulfed Lebanon in recent days in that they are economically driven, largely leaderless and spontaneous against a sectarian-based system and a corrupt political class that has ruled for decades and driven the two countries to the brink of economic disaster.

The protests in Iraq threaten to plunge the country into a new cycle of instability that potentially could be the most dangerous the conflict-scarred nation has faced, barely two years after declaring victory over the so-called Islamic State group.

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Anti-government protesters in Basra, Iraq (Nabil al-Jurani/AP)

“They (the leaders) have eaten away at the country like cancer,” said Abu Ali al-Majidi, 55, pointing in the direction of the Green Zone. “They are all corrupt thieves.”

Subsequently, Iraqi security forces and government officials vowed to avoid further deadly violence and deployed heavily on the streets of Baghdad in anticipation of Friday’s protests.

Thousands of people began converging at Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square early Friday, carrying Iraqi flags and posters calling for change and reform.

However, after thousands of protesters removed metal security barriers and crossed a bridge leading to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the US embassy and Iraqi government offices, soldiers fired tear gas to disperse them.

After they tried to remove concrete barriers near the entrance to the Green Zone, they fired live rounds to push the protesters back.

Security and hospital officials said eight people were killed, five of them in Baghdad and three in the southern province of Nasiriyah. They said most of the deaths occurred as protesters were struck in the face by tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

Hundreds of people were taken to hospitals, many with shortness of breath from the tear gas.

PA

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