Iraqi protesters defy curfew as violence leaves dozens dead
Authorities cut internet access in much of Iraq since late on Wednesday in a desperate move to curb the rallies.
Anti-government demonstrators have defied an around-the-clock curfew in Baghdad and other cities as Iraqi security forces used live ammunition and tear gas during a third day of unrest.
Authorities cut internet access in much of Iraq since late on Wednesday in a desperate move to curb the rallies. By Thursday afternoon, the curfew was extended to three other southern provinces.
The spontaneous rallies have been spurred mostly by youths wanting jobs, improved services such as electricity and water, and an end to endemic corruption in the oil-rich country. Most of the demonstrators were peaceful; many had their faces covered with masks or Iraqi flags.
The streets of Baghdad were littered with tear gas canisters and empty bullet casings. Smoke from burned tyres rose above the streets as protesters tried to prevent security forces from advancing. The forces spread barbed wires and armoured vehicles to block their path.
The unrest is the most serious challenge for Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s year-old government, which has also been caught in the middle of increasing US-Iran tensions in the region.
Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of US troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.
In the last three days, at least 20 protesters and one policeman were killed in four provinces. On Thursday, the first death was reported in Baghdad where one protester was killed as the demonstrators pushed their way towards Tahrir Square in the city centre. The square has been off-limits since Wednesday night just before the curfew.
Soon after, protesters overpowered a soldier in his armoured vehicle, setting it on fire and warning other security forces to stay away from the square. The protesters then marched toward the square. There were also fires set to parts of government buildings in the southern provinces of Najaf and Dhiqar.
At least five protesters were shot and killed on Thursday in Zaafaraniya, a southern Baghdad neighbourhood, according to police and a medial official.
Explosions were heard before dawn inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government offices and foreign embassies. The US-led coalition said an investigation was under way into the attack, adding that no coalition forces or assets were hit.
An Iraqi security official said two mortar shells hit the Green Zone, falling on an open space and not causing any injuries.
In the latest deaths, at least six protesters were shot and killed on Thursday in the city of Nasiriyah, about 200 miles south of Baghdad. Nasiriyah has seen the most violence since the protests began on Tuesday.