Three dead, dozens wounded in Baghdad protests

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and live rounds during clashes with anti-government protesters overnight and on Monday morning in Baghdad, killing three and wounding dozens of demonstrators, officials said.

Separately, three katyusha rockets landed in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government and home to several foreign embassies, but caused no injuries or damage, two security officials said.

The clashes prompted authorities to close key streets and thoroughfares leading to the Iraqi capital’s centre.

The violence was the latest since protests in Iraq reignited last week after a brief lull amid soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran following a United States (US) drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad earlier this month. The rockets landed close to the US embassy in the Green Zone, and are the latest in several similar attacks.

As in the other incidents, the perpetrators were not immediately known but the strike comes during a sensitive time as the US and Iran step back from taking further escalating action on Iraqi soil. Two rockets fell in the Green Zone on January 8.

Anti-government protesters set fire and close streets while security forces use tear gas during ongoing protests in central Baghdad, Iraq. PHOTO: AP

In Baghdad, the tear gas and live rounds were fired near Sinak Bridge and also the nearby Tayaran Square, which have been the scene of violence in recent days, medical and security officials said.

A gunshot wound killed one protester, while a second died after being struck in the head by a tear gas canister, medical officials said. A third later succumbed to his injuries, the officials said.

A statement from the Baghdad Operations Command said 14 officers were wounded by a group of rock-throwing “inciters of violence” while trying to secure the entrance to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protest movement.

Among the dead was Yousif Sattar, 21, a local journalist covering the protest movement, one medical official and an activist said.

“Despite these actions our forces continued to exercise restraint and follow up on the security duties assigned to them,” said the statement.

A security official stated that at least nine arrests have been made so far after the National Security Council authorised security forces to arrest demonstrators seen blocking main thoroughfares and roundabouts.

The United Nations (UN) envoy to Iraq, meanwhile, urged Iraqi political elites to resume pushing for reforms and for protests to remain peaceful.

“Any steps taken so far to address the people’s concerns will remain hollow, if they are not completed,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert in a statement issued by the UN.

“Violent suppression of peaceful protesters is intolerable and must be avoided at all costs.”

Last Sunday, protesters in Baghdad and southern Iraq burned tyres, blocking main streets. Clashes in Baghdad wounded at least 27 people.

Iraqi activists gave the government a week’s deadline to act on their demands for sweeping political reforms or said they would up the pressure with new demonstrations.