Iraq: Baghdad police use tear gas, live fire as protests rage

Iraq: Baghdad police use tear gas, live fire as protests rage
Protesters say they want a new government, fresh elections and the prosecution of corrupt officials



Security forces have fired tear gas and live fire in an attempt to clear roads in Iraq's capital, Baghdad, as hundreds of protesters again took to the streets to express their anger at the embattled government's slow pace of reforms.


Demonstrators a week ago had given the government until Monday to act on their demands, which include the holding of a snap poll under a new electoral law, the appointment of an independent prime minister and the prosecution of officials suspected of corruption.



Starting on Sunday and continuing on Monday, young demonstrators in Baghdad and the south began sealing off highways and bridges with burning tyres."We blocked the road to demand our rights ... the rights of young people to get a job," said one of the protesters in the capital, who wished to remain anonymous. 



"We demand the central government go to early elections and the nomination of a new independent prime minister. If that doesn't happen, we will escalate and block all the highway and centres of the city." 



Imran Khan, reporting from near the clashes in Baghdad, said police used tear gas against the protesters who burned tyres and tried to block access to Tayaran Square.



"We've also heard live fire being used against the protesters," Khan added, noting that witnesses said at least one demonstrator was killed as a result of the usage of live ammunition.


Medics at the scene also treated more than a dozen people who suffered the effects of tear gas. "More and more people are arriving as they see the pictures on the news - this is one of the largest demonstrations in recent weeks and is also likely to be one of the most violent," Khan said.



Protests also broke out in southern Iraq, including in the cities of Nasiriya, Karbala and Amara, where demonstrators burned tyres and blocked roads.

The call for action by protest organisers came amid fears that spiralling regional tensions in the wake of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani's assassination by the United States in early January would put an end to the momentum of their months-long movement. 



Decisive moment

The uprising began on October 1 when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to decry rampant government corruption, poor public services and a scarcity of jobs. Protesters are also demanding an end to Iraq's quota based political system, introduced after the US-led invasion in 2003.


Hundreds of people have been killed since the protests first erupted, with rights groups accusing security forces of using excessive force against the demonstrators.



"They [security forces] should stop shooting and aiming, who are they and who we are? Both sides are Iraqis. So why are you killing your brothers?" a woman, who wished to remain anonymous, was quoted as saying.Khan said protesters in Baghdad were getting frustrated "because they feel they are not being listened to".



"Now that they have cut off all these roads, the question is how much more can they escalate and how much more pressure can they put on the government?""The protest movement faces a decisive moment in the coming days, they need to put enough pressure on the government so that it meets their demands," Khan said. 




Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned nearly two months ago, but political parties so far have failed to agree on a successor and he has continued to run the government as a caretaker.Demonstrators have publicly rejected the names circulating as possible replacements and are furious that other sweeping reform measures have not been implemented.