Clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and protesters in Iraq’s capital city Baghdad on Sunday, as thousands took part in nationwide demonstrations on the one-year anniversary of anti-government protests.
In Baghdad, security forces fired tear gas canisters to disperse crowds. Some protesters hurled rocks as well as Molotov cocktails at police.
Security forces “were armed with only clubs and batons,” Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan told press.
About 50 police and protesters were slightly injured, reported AFP news agency, citing police and medical sources.
Peaceful demonstrations went ahead in several cities in the south including Basra, Najaf and Nasiriyah.
The cross-sectarian, youth-led protest movement first broke out in October 2019.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to decry government corruption, poor services and high unemployment in Baghdad and the country’s south.
They also accuse Iraq’s ruling class of permitting Iranian intervention in their country.
During the last round of protests, about 600 protesters were killed and 30,000 wounded in nationwide clashes after Iraqi forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds.
The protests helped usher in Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in May, but he has yet to deliver on any major reforms.
Read more: Can Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi stay the course?
The violence broke out after security forces stopped protesters from crossing a bridge leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to foreign embassies and government offices.
Security forces deployed water cannon to block demonstrators from bridges leading to the zone.
“It’s been a year and we still want our country back,” said Batool Hussein, a female demonstrator in central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square — the heart of the protests. “We still want to unseat the corrupt from power, and we still want to know who killed the protesters last year.”
Activists have long complained of a campaign of kidnappings and killings to intimidate them into halting demonstrations.
Uday Jaberi, an activist in the southern city of Nasiriyah, sent an angry message to politicians: “These young people didn’t come out for nothing; they came to shake up the thrones you’ve been sitting on, you corrupt people!” he said.
“Young people who have been wounded and their families lost loved ones all for Iraq,” he added.
After sunset, Nasiriyah’s main square, fireworks shot up into the air as protesters pitched tents to camp out.
On Saturday, Kadhimi gave an address attempting to appease protesters while warning against an escalation. He repeatedly urged security forces not to fire at demonstrators, but also called on protesters to “respect the uniform.”
Parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2021 — brought forward partly in response to protesters’ demands — would go ahead, Kadhimi added.
kmm/shs (AFP, dpa)