Iraq poised for further clashes after two killed in protests

Iraq poised for further clashes after two killed in protests
Two people were killed in Iraq on Tuesday after security forces attempted to disperse protesters with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber and live bullets.
2 min read
02 October, 2019
More than 1,000 Iraqis protested in central Baghdad on Tuesday [AFP]

Iraq is poised for a second day of clashes as security forces have sealed off Baghdad's central Tahrir Square in an effort to stem demonstrations that saw the death of two protesters on Tuesday.

Riot police fired live rounds in the air on Wednesday in a bid to disperse fresh demonstrations in Baghdad despite calls from the president for restraint after bloodshet the previous day, AFP reported.

Other top officials including the prime minister and interior minister, however, have blamed the violence on "infiltrators" and "aggressors" among the protesters.

Iraqi security forces on Wednesday blocked roads leading to Tahrir Square, sealing the area of with a heavy police presence, The New Arab's Arabic service reported.

It was the capital's central Tahrir Square that was the main hub of Tuesday's protests.

Protesters gathered on Wednesday in Baghdad's Sadr City, Zaafaraniyah, Fadl and Shaab suburbs, where they burned tires, as well as the city's central Tayran Square.

Troops have also been deployed in the southern city of Basra in anticipation of large demonstrations.

Hundreds of demonstrators took the streets of the capital and cities across the country's south on Tuesday, the first major challenge mounted against the government, formed a year ago this month.

Protesters in the heart of Baghdad voiced a range of grievances, inlcuding state corruption, failing public services, unemployment and the sidelining of a popular Iraqi general last week.

No political faction had explicitly called for the protest, which later in the day ballooned and turned violent, which appeared to be spontaneous.

Riot police used tear gas and water cannons and later opened fire with live and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds in the capital's Tahrir Square on Tuesday evening.

Heavy gunfire could be heard into the night, leaving one protester dead and another 200 wounded in Baghdad.

Another demonstrator was killed amid clashes in the country's south, health officials said.

The violence drew condemnation from President Barham Saleh, who urged "restraint and respect for the law", but observers are worried Iraq is poised for a second day of violence with security forces blocking demonstrators from gathering in Tahrir Square.

"Peaceful protest is a constitutional right granted to citizens," Saleh said late on Tuesday.

The UN's top official in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, also expressed "grave concern" on Wednesday, saying she "deeply regrets the casualties".

She urged the authorities to "exercise restraint in their handling of the protests". 

Iraq's parliament has ordered an investigation into the violence, and its human rights committee has criticised the security forces for their "suppression" of the demonstrations.