FOUR IRAQIS DIE AS SE­CU­RITY FORCES FIRE ON PROTESTERS

▶ Po­lice in Baghdad use live am­mu­ni­tion as de­mon­stra­tors get to within 500 me­tres of Prime Min­is­ter ’s of­fice

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - MINA ALDROUBI

At least four de­mon­stra­tors and one mem­ber of the se­cu­rity forces were killed yes­ter­day as protests in Iraq es­ca­lated, with protesters march­ing to within 500 me­tres of the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice in Baghdad.

Iraqi se­cu­rity of­fi­cials fired live rounds at protesters, some­thing they have been ac­cused of be­fore, with a med­i­cal of­fi­cial say­ing that at least 60 were also in­jured in the un­rest.

Protesters have been try­ing to breach bar­ri­cades on bridges lead­ing to the heav­ily for­ti­fied Green Zone, the site of the gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters, but have been kept back with tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets.

A video emerged that pur­ported to show se­cu­rity forces shoot­ing a pro­tester dead.

Since the start of Oc­to­ber, tens of thou­sands of peo­ple have gath­ered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and in cities across south­ern Iraq to de­mand the res­ig­na­tion of the gov­ern­ment and an end to the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem estab­lished af­ter the 2003 US-led in­va­sion.

Anger has mounted over the lack of public ser­vices, cor­rup­tion and Iran’s in­flu­ence in the coun­try.

Yes­ter­day’s vi­o­lence comes a day af­ter protesters stormed the Ira­nian con­sulate in Kar­bala, 100 kilo­me­tres south-west of the cap­i­tal. Se­cu­rity forces re­tal­i­ated by fir­ing into the air to dis­perse the crowds of protesters, who threw stones and set fire to tyres around the build­ing. Wit­nesses said protesters tore down the Ira­nian flag fly­ing over the con­sulate and re­placed it with the Iraqi flag.

Iraq’s for­eign min­istry con­demned the act against the con­sulate.

“The se­cu­rity of diplo­matic mis­sions and con­sulates is a red line that can­not be over­stepped,” the min­istry said.

Prime Min­is­ter Adel Ab­dul Mahdi has ap­pealed to the de­mon­stra­tors in ef­forts to re­store calm to the coun­try, say­ing the un­rest was cost­ing the econ­omy bil­lions of dol­lars.

But his in­ter­ven­tion did lit­tle to set­tle public un­rest from peo­ple de­mand­ing his res­ig­na­tion.

The at­tack on the Ira­nian con­sulate came af­ter warn­ings from Iraq’s top cler­ics that for­eign pow­ers should not in­ter­fere in the coun­try.

But re­ports in­di­cate that Iran has sent Gen Qassem Suleimani, the shad­owy head of the Is­lamic Revolution­ary Guard Corps Quds Force, to en­sure Mr Ab­dul Mahdi re­mains in power.

On Oc­to­ber 1, Gen Suleimani flew into the Green Zone, where he sur­prised a group of top se­cu­rity of­fi­cials by chair­ing a meet­ing in place of the prime min­is­ter.

“We in Iran know how to deal with protests,” Gen Suleimani told the Iraqi of­fi­cials, ac­cord­ing to two se­nior of­fi­cials. “This hap­pened in Iran and we got it un­der con­trol.”

He also re­port­edly in­ter­vened at the week­end to stop the res­ig­na­tion of Mr Ab­dul Mahdi days af­ter Iraqi Pres­i­dent Barham Salih said that the prime min­is­ter would step down if he could do so with­out caus­ing a “con­sti­tu­tional vac­uum”.

Last year, in mass ral­lies in Basra – caused by sim­i­lar frus­tra­tions over cor­rup­tion, poor ser­vices and un­em­ploy­ment – protesters set fire to the Ira­nian con­sulate and chanted anti-Iran slo­gans.

Hu­man rights groups said armed mili­tia linked to Tehran have killed and ab­ducted protesters.

More than 250 peo­ple have been killed in the se­cu­rity crack­down this month. Mon­i­tor­ing groups say they be­lieve the Ira­nian-backed mili­tias used snipers po­si­tioned on rooftops to shoot protesters.

The protest move­ment restarted last week af­ter a brief pause for the Shi­ite com­mem­o­ra­tion of Ar­baeen with the sup­port of stu­dents and trade unions, who an­nounced a joint cam­paign of non-vi­o­lent re­sis­tance on Sun­day.

In his state­ment to the na­tion, Mr Ab­dul Mahdi called for mar­kets, fac­to­ries, schools and uni­ver­si­ties to re­open af­ter days of protests in the cap­i­tal and across the mostly Shi­ite south.

He said the threat to oil fa­cil­i­ties and the clo­sure of roads had cost the coun­try bil­lions of dol­lars and con­trib­uted to price in­creases that af­fect every­one.

Oper­a­tions at Iraq’s main Gulf port, Umm Qasr, near the oil-rich city of Basra, which re­ceives the bulk of Iraq’s im­ports of grain, veg­etable oils and sugar, have been at a stand­still since Wed­nes­day.

Protesters blocked roads with barbed wire and burn­ing tyres on Sun­day to keep up pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment to re­sign.

Mr Ab­dul Mahdi called for mar­kets, fac­to­ries, schools and uni­ver­si­ties to re­open af­ter days of protests

AFP

Iraqi protesters at the walls of the Ira­nian con­sulate in Kar­bala as de­mon­stra­tions con­tin­ued well into the night yes­ter­day

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