Protests resume in Baghdad amid political impasse

Casualties occurred after protesters attempted to breach cement barriers placed by security forces.
Sunday 19/01/2020
Posters of anti-government protesters who have been killed in demonstrations are displayed in Tahrir Square during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, January 18. (AP)
Posters of anti-government protesters who have been killed in demonstrations are displayed in Tahrir Square during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, January 18. (AP)

LONDON - Protests turned violent in Baghdad and political factions have been unable to reach consensus on a candidate to replace caretaker Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned under pressure from protesters.

Two protesters were killed and more than a dozen wounded January 17 in Baghdad in renewed violence between anti-government demonstrators and Iraqi security forces, activists and officials said.

Casualties occurred after protesters attempted to breach cement barriers placed by security forces.

The violence ended a period of calm between protesters and security forces after tensions soared between Tehran and Washington following a US drone strike in Iraq that killed a top Iranian general.

Mass protests have engulfed Baghdad and the predominately Shia southern provinces since October 1 when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to decry government corruption, scarcity of jobs and poor basic services. At least 500 people have been killed by security forces, who fired live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs.

Protesters demand sweeping reforms, new leadership and elections.

Since November, protesters have occupied three strategic bridges in Baghdad — Sinak, Ahrar and Jumhuriyah — leading to or near the fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government, in a standoff with security forces.

To return focus to the goals of the protest movement, demonstrators in Nasiriya gave the government a week to take serious steps to implement changes.

The movement has brought about key changes but it is unclear whether protesters can keep up momentum amid regional tensions and political infighting.

Pressure from the protests triggered Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation after Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani withdrew support for his government.

In late December, parliament approved a legislation giving political independents a better chance of winning seats, a key demand of protesters. Once implemented, the measure would change the country’s 18 provinces into several electoral districts, with one legislator elected per 100,000 people.

Protest organisers have struggled in recent weeks to entice large crowds to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the movement, sparking fears it might be losing momentum.

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