Iraqi police fire tear gas to disperse fresh Baghdad protests

Iraqi security forces stand in front of demonstrators during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad, Iraq October 25, 2019Image copyright

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Iraqi security forces blocked protesters as they tried to reach government buildings

Security forces in the Iraqi capital Baghdad have fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators trying to march on government buildings.

Reports said two people had died after being hit by tear gas canisters and scores were injured.

Marchers are demanding more jobs, better public services and an end to corruption.

Similar protests earlier this month were brutally put down by security forces, leaving nearly 150 people dead.

A government report has acknowledged that authorities used excessive force.

Ahead of the latest rallies, Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, used his weekly sermon on Friday to call for restraint.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi warned on Thursday that although people could exercise their right to demonstrate, violence would not be tolerated.

Friday marks the first anniversary of Mr Mahdi taking office. He has promised a cabinet reshuffle and a package of reforms to address protesters’ demands but many remain unconvinced.

What’s the latest?

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Thursday evening and many camped out overnight.

Early on Friday they crossed a bridge, bringing them close to the Green Zone where government buildings and foreign embassies are located.

According to witnesses, security forces then fired a volley of tear gas to drive them back.

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Demonstrators ran for cover as police fired tear gas

Ali Bayati, a member of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission, said two demonstrators had died after being hit in the head or face by tear gas canisters. He said nearly 100 people were injured. There was no corroboration for the figures and officials have not commented.

However, pictures from the scene did show at least one person, apparently hit by a canister, lying motionless on the street.

“We’re not hungry, we want dignity,” shouted one marcher quoted by AFP news agency.

Another said that Iraq’s politicians had “monopolised all the resources”.

Demonstrations were also reported in the southern cities of Diwaniyah, Najaf and Nasiriyah.

Correspondents say confrontations could escalate later on Friday when supporters of Moqtada Sadr, another highly influential Shia cleric who leads the largest opposition bloc in parliament, are expected to take to the streets.

What’s the background?

The protests started in Baghdad on 1 October. Most of those taking part were young and unemployed.

After security forces used live ammunition in an attempt to disperse the demonstrators, the unrest escalated and spread to other cities and towns.

When the scale of the bloodshed became clear, a government committee was tasked by Prime Minister Mahdi with investigating the violence.

Media captionVideo from early October shows protesters fleeing from Iraqi security forces

Its report said 149 civilians and eight security personnel had been killed in protests between 1 and 6 October. Three-quarters of the deaths were in Baghdad province.

The committee concluded that “officers and commanders lost control over their forces during the protests” and that this “caused chaos”.

It also found evidence that a sniper had operated out of an abandoned building in central Baghdad.

The committee recommended that dozens of senior security officials be dismissed and referred them to prosecutors for possible trial, including the Baghdad operations commander.

However, it stopped short of blaming the prime minister and other senior officials.

Iraqi police fire tear gas to disperse fresh Baghdad protests