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Iraqi security forces clash with protesters in Baghdad and other cities

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Iraqi security forces fired bullets and tear gas on Sunday as clashes with protesters renewed in Baghdad and other cities, according to Reuters witnesses and security sources.

Security forces tried to break up sit-down camps across the country and fired into the air after protesters resisted using incendiary bombs and stones. Medical sources said that at least 14 people were injured in the capital, and at least 17 people were injured in Nasiriyah, in the south of the country.

The demonstrators are demanding the departure of the ruling elite, which they consider to be corrupt, and an end to foreign interference in internal politics, especially from Iran, which has dominated state institutions since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 in a US-led invasion.

The office of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he canceled demonstrations against the United States embassy in Iraq on Sunday to avoid “internal strife”. Sadr had earlier called for demonstrations against the US embassy in the capital, Baghdad, and in other cities.

Tens of thousands protested against the US military presence in Iraq in a march that took place on Friday, which was called after the United States killed the prominent Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and a leader in the Iraqi popular crowd in Baghdad this month.

Sadr, who has supporters in the millions in Baghdad and southern cities, said he would stop participating in anti-government demonstrations.

“We protest because we have a case … I don’t think Muqtada al-Sadr or any other politician will change our mind,” said one of the protesters in Baghdad, who asked not to be named.

Sadr’s supporters backed anti-government protests, sometimes protecting the protesters from attacks by security forces and unidentified gunmen, but they began leaving the sit-in camps early Saturday morning after Sadr’s announcement.

Security forces then proceeded to remove concrete barriers near Tahrir Square, where protesters had been protesting for months, and at least one major bridge over the Tigris River.

Hussein Ali, a student taking part in the protest, said, “I don’t usually go to demonstrations, but I came today because of what they did yesterday … I want to express my solidarity with my brothers in Tahrir.”

– Protests in the south –

A Reuters reporter said that protesters in the capital were coughing and trying to wash their faces and eyes to get rid of the effects of tear gas, while medics at the Iraqi Red Cross provided first aid as ambulances could not reach the site.

Volunteers used Tuk Tuk vehicles to evacuate the injured protesters amid clouds of gas and black smoke from burning tires.

Hundreds of university students gathered earlier on Sunday in Tahrir Square, which includes the main sit-in camp, chanting slogans against the United States and Iran.

In the city center of Nasiriyah, a Reuters witness said protesters set fire to two security vehicles in the city center, while hundreds of them took control of major bridges.

Another Reuters witness said that more than two thousand students from different universities poured into the sit-in camp in the southern city of Basra.

Police sources and Reuters witnesses said that the protests also continued in Karbala, Najaf and Diwaniya in defiance of security forces’ attempts to break up sit-ins which have been going on for months.

The unrest renewed last week after a period of relative calm that lasted for several weeks following the American air strikes that killed Soleimani and to which Iran responded with ballistic missile attacks on two military bases in Iraq in which American forces are located. The killing of Soleimani fueled tension on the domestic political scene in Iraq and postponed the formation of a new government.

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