Iraqi forces fire on crowds as protests en­ter 5th day

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY QAS­SIM AB­DUL-ZAHRA

Iraqi pro­test­ers pressed on with an­gry anti-gov­ern­ment ral­lies in the cap­i­tal and across sev­eral prov­inces for a fifth day Satur­day, set­ting gov­ern­ment of­fices on fire and ig­nor­ing ap­peals for calm from po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious lead­ers.

Se­cu­rity agen­cies fa­tally shot 19 pro­test­ers and wounded more than three dozen in a sus­tained deadly re­sponse that has claimed more than 80 lives since the up­heaval be­gan.

The semiof­fi­cial Iraqi High Com­mis­sion for Hu­man Rights, af­fil­i­ated with the par­lia­ment, put the death toll at 94. It said nearly 4,000 peo­ple have been wounded since Tues­day, when mostly young demon­stra­tors spon­ta­neously ini­ti­ated the ral­lies to de­mand jobs, im­prove­ments to elec­tric­ity, wa­ter and other ser­vices, and an end to cor­rup­tion in the oil-rich na­tion.

The vi­o­lent dead­lock pre­sented the con­flictscarr­ed na­tion with its most se­ri­ous chal­lenge since the de­feat of the Is­lamic State group two years ago and deep­ened the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis of a coun­try still strug­gling with the le­gacy of mul­ti­ple, un­fin­ished wars since the U.S. in­va­sion in 2003.

“It has been 16 years of cor­rup­tion and in­jus­tice,” said Ab­bas Najm, a 43year-old un­em­ployed en­gi­neer who was part of a rally Satur­day in the square. “We are not afraid of bul­lets or the death of mar­tyrs. We will keep go­ing and we won’t back down.”

Amid the chaos, masked gun­men stormed the of­fice of three TV news sta­tions in Baghdad. Gun­men in black cars and wear­ing black clothes stormed the of­fices of Al-Ara­biya, a Sau­diowned pan-Arab news chan­nel on Abu Nawas Street, beat up some of the em­ploy­ees and smashed equip­ment be­fore they fled, said Ma­jed Hamid, the chan­nel’s Baghdad cor­re­spon­dent. Hamid said the sta­tion had been re­ceiv­ing threats for sev­eral days.

Gun­men also at­tacked the of­fices of Iraq’s pri­vate Da­jla and NRT news chan­nels, ac­cord­ing to em­ploy­ees at the sta­tions.

Scram­bling to con­tain the demon­stra­tions, Iraqi lead­ers called an emer­gency ses­sion of par­lia­ment Satur­day to dis­cuss the pro­test­ers’ de­mands. But they lacked a quo­rum due to a boy­cott called by in­flu­en­tial Shi­ite cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr, leader of par­lia­ment’s largest bloc. On Fri­day, al-Sadr called on Prime Min­is­ter Adel Ab­dul-Mahdi’s gov­ern­ment to re­sign and hold early elec­tions, say­ing the shed­ding of blood of Iraqis “can­not be ig­nored.”

HADI MIZBAN AP

Anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers rush to an in­jured per­son Satur­day in Baghdad, Iraq. The spon­ta­neous protests that started Tues­day in Baghdad and south­ern cities were sparked by cor­rup­tion and the lack of jobs.

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