UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Iraqi security forces killed at least five people on Saturday as they tried to force protesters to retreat towards their main gathering site in central Baghdad using live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs, police and medics said.
Dozens of people were injured and security forces regained control of all major bridges except a bridge linking the eastern part of the capital, which includes residential and commercial districts, to government headquarters across the Tigris River.
The government has promised reforms to end the crisis. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Saturday that political parties had “fallen into many wrong practices” in their administration of the country, acknowledged the legitimacy of the protest to achieve political change and pledged reforms in the electoral system.
Mass protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square began on October 1 as protesters demand jobs and services. The protests spread from the capital to cities in the south with demands that amounted to a comprehensive political change of the country’s sectarian system.
The protests are the biggest and are also one of the most complex challenges to the political system created after the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Iraq, tired of decades of conflict and sanctions, was relatively calm after the Islamic State’s defeat in 2017.
But the government has been unable to find solutions to the current wave of unrest that has put the political class against young people, mostly unemployed, who have not seen an improvement in their living conditions even in peacetime.
Despite the government’s pledge to implement reforms, security forces have used excessive force from the outset and killed more than 280 people across the country.
On Saturday, security forces forced protesters to retreat from some bridges they had tried to control in recent days and pushed them towards the main Tahrir Square to gather protesters.
But the protesters managed to retain control of part of the neighboring republic bridge where they set up barriers in a confrontation with police.
Protesters fear that the bridge and Tahrir Square are the next targets of the security forces. New clashes erupted by night near Tahrir Square, where the sound of gas and sound bombs was heard in central Baghdad, as has been the case every night over the past days.
“The police took control of almost all the area in front of us,” said one protester, Abdullah. It is progressing and I think it will try to control liberation tonight.”
– Promises of reform –
Some protesters pelted security forces with Molotov cocktails on another bridge on Saturday, while others brought incendiary bombs to a nearby area with towers in preparation for further clashes.
At a makeshift clinic near the scene, volunteer paramedic Manar Hamad said she helped dozens of wounded on Saturday.
“Many were wounded by shrapnel from sound bombs and others were suffocated by tear gas or were hit directly by tear gas canisters,” she said amid loud gunfire and ambulance horns. Some were killed that way.”
Five people were killed and more than 140 wounded in Baghdad on Saturday, police and medics said. A Reuters cameraman saw a man carried by volunteer paramedics away after a tear gas grenade hit him directly in the head.
As the violence flared, Abdul Mahdi issued a seemingly conciliatory statement urging a return to normalcy after weeks of unrest that has cost the country tens of millions of dollars even though oil exports remain unaffected.
“Political forces and parties are important entities in any democratic system. They have made great sacrifices, but they have fallen into many wrong practices,” Abdul Mahdi said.
He said the protests were a legitimate engine of political change. “Just as demonstrations are a movement to return to the natural rights of the people, the continuation of demonstrations must serve the return of normal life in which legitimate demands are fulfilled,” he said in the statement.
Abdul Mahdi also vowed to make changes to the electoral system and impose an arms embargo outside state institutions and groups accused of firing on demonstrators.
“The government and the judicial authorities will continue to investigate the cases of martyrs and wounded protesters and troops, will not detain any of the demonstrators and will bring to trial those found guilty of criminal offenses and any party, and will prosecute anyone who assaults, abducted or detained outside the law and judicial authorities,” the prime minister added. “.
Abdul-Mahdi made the remarks a day after Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Friday called on the country’s ruling elite to seek peaceful ways to resolve the crisis and hold security forces responsible for avoiding further violence.
In southern Iraq, an official at the port of Umm Qasr for commodities near Basra on Saturday resumed operations at the port, which was suspended for about 10 days after protesters closed its entrance.
The port of Umm Qasr receives shipments of cereals, vegetable oils and sugar to a country heavily dependent on food imports.
In the southern city of Basra, authorities set up a security cordon to prevent demonstrators from gathering in the city center on Saturday after two people were killed there on Friday during clashes between protesters and security forces.
An official at the Kuwaiti consulate in Basra said the consulate would withdraw its staff from the city in light of the deteriorating security situation.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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