Hours after four demonstrators were shot dead outside the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Karbala, Iraqi security forces fired live rounds Monday at anti-government protesters in Baghdad wounding 20.
This is the first time live ammunition was fired at Baghdad demonstrators since protests resumed on October 24, following a period in which riot police had switched to use tear gas amid accusations of “excessive force”.
It was the latest bloodshed in a wave of ongoing protests, road blocks and a campaign of civil disobedience waged by protesters accusing the Iraqi government of rampant corruption.
Activists also hurled stones at security forces firing tear gas grenades in clashes on the capital’s streets leading to the Iranian embassy, the seat of government and the foreign and justice ministries, an AFP photographer reported.
Some 270 people have lost their lives since the anti-government rallies broke out on October 01, according to an AFP count, but officials have stopped providing precise casualty numbers.
Undeterred by the latest violence, protesters pushed on Monday with civil disobedience tactics they have increasingly adopted over the past week, including sit-ins, road closures and strikes.
The national teachers’ syndicate shut down schools across the country, and other trade unions later joined in.
Government offices in more than a half-dozen southern cities have been either stormed or closed for lack of staff, with demonstrators hanging banners reading “Closed by order of the people” in front of the buildings.
Others have erected checkpoints to stop security forces or imposed curfews on officials and police, with roads cut in Samawa and protests in Nasiriyah and Hillah on Monday.
Protesters have also shut the highway to the Umm Qasr port, one of the main conduits for food, medicine and other imports into Iraq.
The spreading non-violent actions defied a plea the previous evening by embattled premier Adel Abdel Mahdi for protesters to end their campaign.
“Now is the time for life to go back to normal,” Abdel Mahdi, 77, said in a statement, insisting that many of the protesters’ demands “have already been satisfied”.
The UN’s top representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, condemned the violence while warning authorities not to underestimate the popular mood.
Protesters have demanded an overhaul of the entrenched political class and deep-rooted change to end rampant corruption they charge is holding the country back.
Despite Iraq being OPEC’s second-largest crude producer, one in five Iraqis live below the poverty line and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent. (Source: Bangkok Post)