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