Protesters in Iraq ramp up pressure as deadline expires
Baghdad, Iraq - Thousands of Iraqi anti-government protesters grappled with security forces in a bid to shut streets across the country on Monday, a deadline they had given authorities to implement long-awaited reforms.
Rallies have rocked Iraq since October but fearing they would lose momentum amid spiralling regional tensions protesters on last Monday told the government it had one week to meet their demands or they would escalate.
They have called for early elections under a new voting law, an independent prime minister to replace outgoing premier Adel Abdel Mahdi and for all corrupt officials to be held accountable.
Late on Sunday young protesters began sealing off highways and bridges across the capital Baghdad and Iraq’s south, torching tyres and setting up makeshift barricades.
They tried to do the same early on Monday in the capital but security forces acted fast, with the military saying it had reopened a major Baghdad thoroughfare and arrested nine young men who had attempted to seal it off.
Ahead of Monday’s deadline, protesters also sought to ramp up pressure on the government with pop-up rallies outside of their main gathering place in Baghdad’s iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
Hundreds descended on nearby Tayaran Square, where they clashed with security forces who fired tear gas and live rounds to disperse them, a journalist said. Young men wearing helmets and gas masks to protect themselves from flying gas canisters erected barricades to try to push riot police back. Skirmishes lasted throughout the night, wounding around 20 people including some with gunshot wounds, a medical source said.
Iraqi security forces (background) and protesters clash at Tayaran Square, east of Tahrir Square in the centre of Baghdad on Monday