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Protests trying to regain momentum in Iraq despite security forces pressure

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Iraqi security forces used live bullets on Sunday to disperse demonstrators in the capital and the south of the country for the second day in a row, sparking confrontations with protesters bent on continuing their movement.

Violence has renewed in Baghdad and the mainly Shi’ite southern cities this week, with more than 15 people killed as anti-government activists intensified road closures and sit-ins while security forces sought to end the campaign.

Four demonstrators were killed in Iraq on Saturday, while the authorities reopened squares and streets in Baghdad and southern cities, according to Agence France-Presse reporters and confirmed by the government, which raised protesters’ fears of a widening campaign and the breaking up of demand protests that have been going on for nearly four months.

Therefore, the protesters returned in large numbers during the evening and Sunday morning, and the security forces tried to disperse them again.

In the capital, security forces used live bullets in an attempt to disperse small gatherings in the Al-Khulani and Al-Wathba areas, close to the central protest camp in Tahrir Square, in the center of the capital, according to a police source.

The source said that at least 17 protesters were wounded, including six by gunfire.

For their part, the young protesters threw stones at the riot police and threw Molotov cocktails at them.

Lack of accountability

Student demonstrations started on Sunday morning from the universities of Baghdad to Tahrir Square, and other marches led by students are scheduled for this week.

In Nasiriyah in the south, security forces used live bullets at the demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them from the streets around the central Al-Haboubi Square in the city.

A medical source told AFP that at least 50 protesters were wounded by live bullets, while about a hundred others were suffocated by tear gas canisters.

The demonstrators gathered there in large numbers after the police re-opened the main streets of the city.

The protesters call for early elections under a new electoral law, an independent prime minister and accountability for corrupt officials and those who have ordered the use of violence against the protesters.

Parliament passed a new electoral law, and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi submitted his resignation in December, but he remains in the caretaker position, and the authorities have failed to respond to the protesters’ demands in this regard.

“The lack of accountability and hesitation does not deserve the hopes of the Iraqis, who have expressed it courageously for four months now,” said the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Iraq, Jenin Hennes-Blackshart, on Saturday.

She added that “while the number of dead and injured continues to rise, the steps taken so far will remain hollow if not completed.”

– The chest pulls the support –

Activists have long worried that their movement may end after Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced Friday that he would not interfere in the movement’s demand.

Sadr, who controls the “Saeron” coalition, the largest political bloc in parliament, backed the protests first in the beginning of October, and called on the government to resign.

But he called for a separate demonstration to demand the departure of 5,200 American soldiers from Iraq, after the American air strike on a plane in Baghdad at the beginning of this month in which the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the deputy head of the PMF Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis were killed.

On Friday, thousands poured into Baghdad to participate in the demonstration rejecting the American presence in the country, which Sadr did not attend but praised the turnout for. Hours later, he said, he will not interfere with the demand movement “neither in the negative nor in the affirmative.”

Within hours, his supporters removed their tents on protest plazas around the country, and riot police began to move.

Analysts said Sadr is striving to maintain his credibility on the street and win the support of Iran, which has complex relations.

Iran has tremendous political and military influence in Iraq, and is likely to have a major say in who will be Abdul-Mahdi’s alternative.

Talks about the next prime minister are still stalled in Baghdad, especially with Soleimani and the engineer, who were the main negotiators in this framework, absent.

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