Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse stone-throwing protesters in clashes that left scores injured near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, where hundreds celebrated the anniversary of 2019 anti-government unrest on Saturday.
At least 64 people were injured, including 26 members of the security forces, according to security and medical sources. The sources said that 38 of the protesters were hit by rubber bullets.
A military statement said some “infiltrated elements” were attacking security forces with Molotov cocktails and hunting rifles.
Security personnel have set up checkpoints throughout the city, closing bridges and squares and erecting walls on some of the bridges leading to the fortified Green Zone that houses the seat of government and foreign embassies.
Protesters in the square waved the Iraqi flag and chanted “we want to overthrow the regime.”
“We are taking part in today’s peaceful protests because we want our demands met…we want security, jobs and our simple rights…we are not here to fight or shed blood,” said Laith, a young protester from Baghdad. .
A few meters away, security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters who had tried to tear down a wall blocking the Republic Bridge that crosses the Tigris into the Green Zone, according to a Reuters reporter who witnessed the incident.
There were smaller protests in the southern provinces.
In 2019, protests broke out against the government of then-Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi with demonstrators demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as deeply corrupt and one that keeps most Iraqis in poverty.
More than 560 people, mostly unarmed protesters but also members of the security forces, were killed as Iraqi security forces and unidentified gunmen cracked down.
Mahdi resigned under pressure from the protests and powerful Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was the biggest winner in last October’s elections.
Sadr recalled all of his lawmakers, almost a quarter of parliament, in June and resorted to sparking street protests after his movement failed to form a government, sparking some of the worst clashes the country has seen in years.
“Neither this government nor the previous one. We are against the political system in its entirety. We want a drastic change. Enough is enough,” said protester and day laborer Yasser.
Saturday’s meeting raised fears of more unrest and tension among power-hungry politicians that could further delay the formation of a government after Sadr left politics in late August.
Four rockets landed in the Green Zone on Wednesday during a partial lockdown as parliament convened, wounding seven security personnel, and another four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad landed around the area on Thursday.
Additional report from Maher Nazih and the Baghdad office, written by Amina Ismail; Edited by Kirsten Donovan