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One Killed as Iraq Security Forces Struggle to Contain Protests

One Killed as Iraq Security Forces Struggle to Contain Protests

Tuesday, 21 January, 2020 - 06:00
Anti-government protesters stage a sit-in while security forces stand guard during ongoing protests in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iraqi police fought running street battles with anti-government demonstrators on Tuesday, firing tear and rubber bullets to try to disperse stone-throwing youths pressing for an overhaul of a political system they see as deeply corrupt.

One protester was killed in Baghdad while another succumbed to a bullet wound sustained on Monday in Baquba city, medical sources said, adding at least 50 demonstrators were wounded.

Violent clashes erupted for a third straight day in Baghdad's Tayaran Square and in other southern cities including Basra and the cities of Karbala and Najaf, with protesters hurling stones and petrol bombs at police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

"Our protests is peaceful. We call for the resignation of the government and an independent prime minister who does not belong to any party," said a hooded protester in Baghdad, who declined to give his name.

Anti-government unrest has crippled Iraq since Oct. 1, with protesters demanding an end to what they say is deeply-rooted corruption and a ruling elite that has controlled Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. More than 450 people have been killed.

Iraqi President Barham Salih is expected to appoint a new premier this week, state media reported, to replace outgoing Adel Abdul Mahdi who was forced out by the demonstrations.

Salih is choosing between three Iraqi politicians to lead a transitional government that would ease popular anger, State TV reported, adding the decision could come as soon as Tuesday.

Tuesday's unrest followed violent gatherings on Monday that killed six Iraqis, including two police officers, and wounded scores across the country.

Protests resumed over the weekend after a lull of several weeks as demonstrators sought to keep up momentum after attention turned to the threat of a US-Iran conflict following Washington's killing of Tehran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, in an air strike inside Iraq.

Protesters worry that a mass rally to be organized Friday by Sadr to demand the ouster of US troops could drown them out.

Last week, Sadr urged Iraqis to hold "a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations".

While protesters have criticized the US, they have directly accused Iran of hindering Iraq politically and economically.

Tehran holds major sway in Iraq, building up close ties with a variety of political and military players over decades.

Protesters say Iran's overreach has contributed to rampant corruption and poor services.

Separately, three katyusha rockets landed in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government and home to several foreign embassies, but caused no injuries or damage, two security officials said.

The rockets landed close to the US embassy in the Green Zone, and are the latest in several similar attacks. As in the other incidents, the perpetrators were not immediately known, but the strike comes during a sensitive time as the US and Iran step back from taking further escalating action on Iraqi soil.

Two rockets fell in the Green Zone on Jan. 8.

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