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Sun, 17 Nov 2019 09:21 GMT

Iraq: Protests Continue, Clashes over Baghdad's Bridges

Counterterrorism & Security

Ghada Ghaleb

Sat, 09 Nov 2019 14:50 GMT

Dozens of Iraqi protesters are believed to have been seriously affected on Saturday November 9th by security forces using tear gas to disperse a sit-in at Al-Khalani Square near the strategic Al-Senq Bridge in Baghdad, which has been an important gathering place for protesters in recent days, AP reported.

Besides firing tear gas, it is believed that security forces are conducting a campaign of arrests against demonstrators in the square. Security forces are also believed to have launched multiple tear gas grenades as they chased the protesters on al-Rashid Street near Al-Senq Bridge, a 7Dnews correspondent reported.

Iraqi security forces succeeded in removing the demonstrators from Al-Sink Bridge after clashes that led to the injury of 35 people according to AP. The bridge crosses the Tigris River and provides access to the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government headquarters and embassies, including the United States embassy.

On Saturday morning, clashes occurred in a commercial street leading to Tahrir Square in the centre of the capital. Iraqi security forces repelled the protesters and regained control of three bridges in Baghdad.

Although large numbers of demonstrators are gathering in the central Tahrir Square for protests calling for the "overthrow of the regime," the clashes have also occurred on four of 12 bridges in Baghdad.

The demonstrators marched first towards Al-Jumhuriya Bridge, which connects Tahrir to the Green Zone, housing government buildings. Security forces removed three concrete roadblocks from the bridge.

Later, other demonstrators marched towards the bridges of Al-Senak, Al-Ahrar and Martyrs Bridge, parallel to the Bridge of the Republic in the north. The three bridges witnessed clashes between protesters and security forces in the night.

The anti-corruption demonstrations and calls for a change of government, which have been going on for nearly two weeks, have killed more than 250 people, according to AP.

High death toll in Basra

Meanwhile, the death toll in the Basra province protests has risen to 14 and over 250 have been injured in what is believed to be the result of security forces using live bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters, according to AP.

The spokesperson of the Iraqi Interior Ministry denied that bullets had been fired at demonstrators in Basra. He also explained that security orders had been given not to carry firearms in the demonstration areas.

Activists said the clashes were not limited to the area around the local government building, but also broke out around the port of Umm Qasr, causing a number of demonstrators to suffer the effects of tear gas.

An official in the port of Umm Qasr used for the import of primary commodities near Basra, on Saturday confirmed the resumption of operations at the port, stressing that all the berths were working today, and that ships had begun to unload their cargo, according to Al Arabiya.

Government position

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said in a statement issued on Saturday that the government and the judiciary would investigate the cases of the killing of demonstrators and look into the release of detainees. "The prosecution of anyone who assaulted, kidnapped or detained outside the framework of the law and the judiciary." would be expedited he said, referring to the security forces.

"The demonstrations are one of the most important means of pressure to achieve the required reforms," he stated saying that the protests in Baghdad and several Iraqi cities in the last few weeks were "the most important events since the invasion year - 2003."

On the other hand, the Iraqi government vowed to punish the demonstrators with custodial sentences of up to life imprisonment for "all those who damaged government buildings" and imprisonment for up to 20 years "for all who damaged homes and private property," according to an official statement.

Abdul-Mahdi justified the interruption of Iraq’s internet service several times in recent days saying that it had been used for "conspiracy and to promote violence."

On the other hand, the Iraqi prime minister said that "the demonstrators were required to work to restore the manifestations of normal life" to the country.

He said that anyone from any faction found guilty of criminal charges would be brought to trial.

Abdul-Mahdi revealed an "important reshuffle… in response to the demands of the demonstrators," saying that "steps had been taken" to reform the electoral system and the electoral commission very soon.

"Political parties have fallen into many wrong practices," he said.

On the other hand, activists and lawyers denounced the government statement, calling on parliament to "disclose the killers of protesters and those responsible for wasting public money for 16 years," according to Reuters.

The Iraqi government spokesperson, Saad al-Hadithi, said in more than one television interview, on Friday, that the resignation of the government "will not meet the many reforms the protesters have been demanding for weeks." He stressed that the resignation of the government "would complicate the crisis and aggravate things."

Al-Hadithi explained that the resignation of the government would turn it into a caretaker government. Consequently, the administration would not relinquish power until new elections had been held in the event of the dissolution of parliament or even the handing over of power to another political party in the current parliament.

He said that it would not satisfy the peaceful demonstrators if the government became a caretaker government, "it would deprive it of many of its powers and the ability to achieve reforms and keep promises made to the demonstrators.

"The government would not be able to send bills to parliament," he said, noting that Adel Abdul Mahdi's government was working on a draft election law and another on the anti-corruption process.

"Where will you find this? Who will review all the finances and property of current and former officials in Iraq?”

The United Nations has expressed deep concern about the number of dead and injured in Iraq as a result of what it considered the use of force by security forces against the demonstrators. The international organisation called on the Iraqi authorities to protect the right of protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

Demonstrators in Iraq insisted on Friday that their demands were made in a statement several days ago. They include dismissing a government they accuse of being responsible for the deaths of protesters, dissolving parliament, organising early elections in a new legal framework and forming an independent election commission.

Middle East