Pro­test­ers flood Bagh­dad de­spite fresh blood­shed

Se­cu­rity forces fire tear gas, throw stun grenades Protests over lack of jobs, ser­vices be­gan on Oct 1

Gulf Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Anti-govern­ment pro­test­ers from across Bagh­dad flooded Iraq’s cap­i­tal yes­ter­day de­spite fresh blood­shed, as lead­ers ap­peared to have closed rank around em­bat­tled Prime Min­is­ter Adel Ab­del Mahdi.

Re­cent deaths in Bagh­dad and Iraq’s south have pushed the toll since demon­stra­tions erupted on Oc­to­ber 1 close to 300, ac­cord­ing to a tally com­piled by AFP.

Of­fi­cials have stopped pro­vid­ing up­dated fig­ures.

“Ab­del Mahdi’s po­si­tion means more to him than the blood of Iraqis,” charged a tribal dig­ni­tary protest­ing in the cap­i­tal yes­ter­day.

Yes­ter­day, the coun­try’s top Shia cleric Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Sis­tani said there should be “no more pro­cras­ti­na­tion” on find­ing a “roadmap” to end the cri­sis.

Mean­while, a bar­rage of 17 rock­ets landed near a mil­i­tary base host­ing US forces in north­ern Iraq but caused no in­juries or ma­jor ma­te­rial dam­age, an Iraqi mil­i­tary state­ment said.

A se­cu­rity source said the rock­ets landed near the Qay­yara mil­i­tary base.

The state­ment and the source did not say who was be­lieved to have launched the at­tack.

Fresh clashes be­tween Iraqi se­cu­rity forces and antigov­ern­ment pro­test­ers broke out in Bagh­dad yes­ter­day killing one per­son, de­spite a call for calm by the coun­try’s top cleric, as au­thor­i­ties grap­ple with the coun­try’s big­gest cri­sis in years.

Se­cu­rity forces fired tear gas and threw stun grenades into crowds of pro­test­ers wear­ing hel­mets and makeshift body ar­mour on a main road in the mid­dle of the Iraqi cap­i­tal, send­ing demon­stra­tors scat­ter­ing, some wounded, Reuters re­porters said.

One pro­tester died from a tear gas can­is­ter fired di­rectly into his head, a Reuters wit­ness said.

More than 280 peo­ple have been killed, ac­cord­ing to po­lice and medics, since the protests over a lack of jobs and ser­vices be­gan in Bagh­dad on Oct 1 and quickly spread to south­ern prov­inces.

Po­lice, the mil­i­tary and para­mil­i­tary groups have used live gun­fire against mostly un­armed pro­test­ers since the be­gin­ning of the un­rest.

Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al-Sis­tani, who only speaks on pol­i­tics in times of cri­sis and wields enor­mous in­flu­ence over pub­lic opinion in Iraq, held se­cu­rity forces ac­count­able for any vi­o­lent es­ca­la­tion and urged the govern­ment to re­spond as quickly as pos­si­ble to demon­stra­tors’ de­mands.

“The big­gest re­spon­si­bil­ity is on the se­cu­rity forces,” a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Sis­tani said in a ser­mon af­ter prayers yes­ter­day in the holy city of Ker­bala. “They must avoid us­ing ex­ces­sive force with peace­ful pro­test­ers.”

Pro­test­ers, some of whom view Sis­tani as part of the po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious sys­tem they say is the cause of many Iraqis’ mis­ery, took lit­tle so­lace from the cleric’s words.

“He says he’s sup­port­ing protests and that we should keep go­ing but he hasn’t helped.

The speech won’t make a dif­fer­ence ei­ther way,” said one woman protest­ing in Bagh­dad whose son was killed in re­cent clashes. “I’m the mother of a stu­dent. They took his life,” she said, giv­ing her name as Umm alSha­heed, Ara­bic for mother of the mar­tyr.The demon­stra­tors, mostly un­em­ployed youths, de­mand an over­haul of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and a cor­rupt rul­ing class which has dom­i­nated state in­sti­tu­tions since the US-led over­throw of Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003.

In the south­ern city of Basra, where at least four peo­ple were killed as se­cu­rity forces cleared a sit-in on Thurs­day, an­other at­tempt was made to dis­perse hun­dreds of pro­test­ers near the lo­cal govern­ment head­quar­ters, po­lice said.The vi­o­lent re­sponse from au­thor­i­ties has fu­elled pub­lic anger.

Snipers from mili­tias that have par­tic­i­pated in the crack­down were de­ployed last month, Reuters re­ported.

Live fire is still be­ing used and even tear gas can­is­ters, fired di­rectly at pro­test­ers’ bod­ies in­stead of be­ing lobbed into crowds, have killed at least 16 peo­ple, New York-based Hu­man Rights Watch said yes­ter­day.

Doc­tors at hos­pi­tals have shown Reuters scans of tear gas can­is­ters em­bed­ded in the skulls of dead pro­test­ers.

Sis­tani warned against the ex­ploita­tion of the un­rest by “in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal” forces which he said sought to desta­bilise Iraq for their own goals. He did not elab­o­rate. Of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts fear that mil­i­tants could ex­ploit un­rest to sow more chaos in Iraq, which has suf­fered decades of con­flict, sanc­tions and cor­rupt gov­er­nance.

Late yes­ter­day, the mil­i­tary said 17 rock­ets had landed near a base host­ing US forces in north­ern Iraq.

It did not say who was be­lieved to be be­hind the at­tack.

The United States blamed Iran-backed mili­tia for rocket at­tacks on other bases in May this year but US forces are also in­volved in a fight against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

An Iraqi pro­tester wear­ing a road sign on his head as a means of pro­tec­tion, flashes the vic­tory ges­ture with his fingers as he takes part in an anti-govern­ment demon­stra­tion in the south­ern city of Basra yes­ter­day.

Demon­stra­tors run away from tear gas dur­ing the on­go­ing anti-govern­ment protests near the Gover­norate build­ing of Basra, yes­ter­day.

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