BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces fired teargas and live bullets in clashes on Sunday with protesters angered by high-level corruption who resisted with stones and petrol bombs, Reuters witnesses and security sources said.
One protester was killed in Baghdad, police sources said, and more than 100 demonstrators were hurt in the violence in the capital and several other cities after the security forces tried to clear sit-in protest camps, medical sources said.
Other medical sources said 75 of those hurt were in the southern city of Nassariya, where a Reuters witness said protesters set fire to two security vehicles and hundreds of other demonstrators controlled key bridges in the city.
The protesters are demanding the removal of what they consider a corrupt ruling elite and an end to foreign interference in Iraqi politics, especially by Iran, which dominates state institutions.
Unrest resumed last week, after a lull of several weeks, following the U.S. killing of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi paramilitary chief in Baghdad this month.
The killing, to which Iran responded with ballistic missile attacks on two Iraqi military bases, has revived tensions in Iraqi politics and delayed the formation of a new government.
In Baghdad, protesters were coughing and washing their faces and eyes to rid themselves of the effects of the gas while medical workers provided first aid, as the site was inaccessible to ambulances, a Reuters reporter said.
Tuk tuks evacuated wounded protesters in clouds of tear gas and black smoke from burning tyres.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of university students had gathered in Tahrir square, the main protest camp, chanting slogans against the United States and Iran.
In the southern city of Basra, more than 2,000 students arrived at a protest camp, another Reuters witness said.
Protests also continued in the cities of Kerbala, Najaf and Diwaniya, defying attempts by security forces to end their months-long sit-in, police sources and Reuters witnesses said.
In other violence, five Katyusha rockets landed on Sunday night in Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies, a military statement said. There were no immediate reports of casualties but sources said the rockets landed near the U.S. embassy.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the attack, a statement from his office said, and said that the continuation of such acts could “drag Iraq into becoming a battlefield.”
CLERIC CANCELS MARCH
Tens of thousands protested against the U.S. military presence in Iraq in a march on Friday.
Populist Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had also called for demonstrations against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and other cities on Sunday but cancelled them, with his office giving “avoiding internal strife” as the reason.
Sadr, who has millions of supporters in Baghdad and the south, said on Saturday he would end his involvement in anti-government unrest.
“We protest because we have a cause. I don’t think Moqtada Sadr or any other politician will change our mind,” said a protester in Baghdad who declined to give his name.
Sadr’s supporters have bolstered the protesters and at times have helped shield them from attacks by security forces and unidentified gunmen, but began withdrawing from sit-in camps on Saturday following his announcement.
Security forces then removed concrete barriers near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, where demonstrators have camped out for months, and across at least one main bridge over the Tigris River.
“I don’t go to protests often but I came out today because of what they did yesterday. I want to express my solidarity with my brothers in Tahrir,” said Hussain Ali, a student.
The Iraqi High Commission on Human Rights called on all sides to exercise self-restraint and keep demonstrations peaceful.
Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Iraq staff; Additional reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed, and Samar Ahmed in Cairo; Writing by Nadine Awadalla, Editing by William Maclean, Toby Chopra and Timothy Heritage
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