BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi police fired live shots into the air and tear gas on Friday to disperse thousands of protesters on the streets of Baghdad, where planned anti-government demonstrations resumed after a three-week hiatus.
Protests over corruption, unemployment and lack of basic services triggered the demonstrations earlier this month. The rallies turned deadly as security forces cracked down, using live ammunition.
The protests spread to several southern provinces and authorities imposed a curfew and shut down the internet for days in an effort to quell the unrest.
After a week of violence in the capital and the country’s southern provinces, a government-appointed inquiry into the protests determined that security forces had used excessive force, killing 149 people and wounding over 3,000. Eight members of the security forces were also killed.
Subsequently, security forces and government officials vowed to avoid further deadly violence and deployed heavily on the streets of Baghdad in anticipation of Friday’s protests.
However, after thousands of protesters crossed the Jumhuriyya Bridge leading to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices, Iraqi soldiers fired at first just tear gas, then live rounds to push back the protesters.
As in the protests earlier this month, the protesters, organized on social media, started from the central Tahrir Square. The protesters are mostly young, unemployed men. They carried Iraqi flags and chanted anti-government protests, demanding jobs, water and electricity.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has struggled to deal with the protests. He gave an address to the nation in the early hours Friday, promising a government reshuffle next week and pledging reforms. He told protesters they have a right to peaceful demonstrations and called on security forces to protect the protests.