Two Iraqi policemen, four protesters killed as anti-government unrest resumes

In Baghdad, southern provinces
A man burns tires during ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq January 20, 2020. (Photo Credit: Reuters/ Ala e al-Marjani)

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SULAIMANI — Six Iraqis, including two police officers, were killed and around 100 were wounded in Baghdad and other cities on Monday (January 20) in clashes with security forces, medical and security sources said, as anti-government unrest resumed after a lull of several weeks.

Two protesters succumbed to their wounds in a Baghdad hospital after police fired live rounds of ammunition in Baghdad’s Tayaran Square, security and medical sources said. One protester was shot by a live bullet in the head, while the second was hit by a tear gas canister, the sources added.

The two others were killed while the security forces cleared protesters from the main roads around Baghdad, NRT's Omed Muhammad reported. He added that the wounded included 14 police officers and the commander of the federal Police’s First Division.

Among the dead was freelance journalist Journalist Yousif Sattar, 21, who died in Baghdad while covering the protests.

Protesters threw petrol bombs and stones at police who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, Reuters witnesses said.

“They [security forces] should stop shooting and aiming, who are they and who are we? Both sides are Iraqis. So why are you killing your brothers?” said one woman protester in Baghdad who declined to give her name.

“The security forces dispersed the protesters by force and opened the roads, especially the road between Baghdad and the cities in central Iraq,” NRT's Muhammad said.

Meanwhile, Spokesperson for the Iraqi Security Forces Abdul Karim Khalaf said that the National Security Council had given ordered the security forces to arrest protesters who close down the government offices and main roads.

In the Iraqi oil city of Basra, two policemen were struck and killed by a civilian car during the protest, security sources said. The driver was trying to avoid the scene of clashes between protesters and security forces when he drove into the two officers, they said.

Elsewhere in southern Iraq, hundreds of protesters burned tires and blocked main roads in several cities, including Nassiriya, Karbala, and Amara. They say Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi has not fulfilled promises including naming a new government acceptable to Iraqis.

Baghdad police said its forces had reopened all roads that were closed by “violent gatherings”. It said 14 officers were wounded near Tahrir square, including some with head wounds and broken bones.

Traffic was disrupted on a highway linking Baghdad to southern cities, a Reuters witness said. Production in southern oilfields was unaffected by the unrest, oil officials said.

Mass protests have gripped Iraq since October 1, with mostly young protesters demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and as keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed.

Numbers had dwindled but protests resumed last week as demonstrators sought to keep up momentum after attention turned to the threat of a US-Iran conflict following Washington’s killing of Tehran’s top general in an air strike inside Iraq.

The killing of Qassem Soleimani, to which Tehran responded with a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi military bases housing US troops, has highlighted the influence of some foreign powers in Iraq, especially Iran and the United States.

(NRT Digital Media/Reuters)

This story was updated at 8:03 p.m. EBL