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Deadly violence flares in Baghdad as Iraq security cracks down on bridge demonstration

Iraqis defy a violent crackdown to protest in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on 31 October [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 October, 2019

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Protests show no sign of abating across Iraq, despite fears of further brutality in central Baghdad as protesters occupied streets, squares and bridges overnight.
Two protesters were killed and almost two hundred injured as violence flared again in renewed anti-government protests across Iraq on Wednesday evening.

The casualties occurred after security forces used tear gas on demonstrators gathered on Sinak Bridge in central Baghdad, near the walled-off Green Zone, according to medical sources.

The two victims were killed after tear gas grenades fractured their skulls after being fired by security forces, in a show of brutality harshly condemned by rights groups.

“All the evidence points to Iraqi security forces deploying [...] military-grade grenades against protesters in Baghdad, apparently aiming for their heads or bodies at point-blank range,"  said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.

"This has had devastating results, in multiple cases piercing the victims’ skulls, resulting in gruesome wounds and death after the grenades embed inside their heads,” she added.

The latest casualties come as a report revealed a total of 250 protesters killed and a staggering 11,000 injured since Iraq protests began, according to the Human Rights Committee of the Iraqi Parliament, who were formed to launched a probe into violence used by police and security forces during the wave of protests which began on 1 October.

“The lack of accountability for unlawful killings and injuries by security forces, responsible for the vast majority of casualties this past month, is sending the message that they can kill and maim with impunity. The authorities must rein in the police, ensure prompt, impartial, effective investigations, and prosecute those responsible,” Maalouf added.

In-depth: 'Our youth are being shot at': Iraq's protests in pictures

Another 2,500 protesters have been jailed across the country, according to the committee.

Daily demonstrations continue across the country after resurging on 25 October following a two-week hiatus.

On Wednesday evening, thousands gathered in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad, the protest movement's epicentre, with crowds swelling to the point they blocked off the tunnel leading to Saidoun street, one of the capital's key thoroughfares.

In an attempt to contain the unrest and prevent protesters reaching the high security Green Zone, Iraqi security forces have closed several bridges which connect Tahrir to the diplomatic district which contains most important government buildings.

Haitham Abdel-Amir, a prominent activist in the Tahrir Square protests, told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that hundreds of people were camping out in the square overnight in protest of police killings of demonstrators, adding he feared the security forces would storm the sit-in.

"We will not leave before we make sure the 300 martyrs and the thousands wounded have done so for the sake of the Iraqi people and for real change, not just empty slogans," he added.

Iraqi authorities have been slammed by activists and human rights groups for their excessive use of force during the rallies, which include using live bullets, tear gas and severe beatings to disperse and intimidate protesters.

Along with Baghdad, renewed protests were sparked on Thursday morning in the southern Dhi Qar province, Basra and Nasiriyah.

University students have also taken to the streets in Babylon and Diyala provinces.

Anti-government sentiment stems from the dire economic situation, soaring youth unemployment, poor public services, rampant corruption across the ruling classes, poor public services and perceived Iranian influence in national politics. 

The brutality of the security and police forces over the past month has added another dimension to protesters' anger against the authorities.

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