Seven killed as police and protesters clash in Baghdad

Seven killed as police and protesters clash in Baghdad
At least seven killed and dozens injured after Iraqi police forces clashed with demonstrators who marched on Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on Saturday.
3 min read
11 February, 2017
At least seven people were killed and dozens more injured after Iraqi security forces clashed with protesters in Baghdad on Saturday.

Protesters attempted to force a cordon and march on Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, police said, prompting security officers to fire tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.

"There were seven dead as a result of the violence. Two of them are from the security forces and the other five are protesters," a police colonel said.

The demonstrators, who had gathered in their thousands in the heart of the capital, were mostly supporters of populist Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demanding electoral reform ahead of provincial elections due in September.

The protest started peacefully and several speakers addressed the large crowd on Tahrir Square, before some of the demonstrators broke away and attempted to break through a security cordon guarding the main road to the Green Zone.

"The demonstrators tried to cross Jumhuriya bridge, the security forces fired tear gas to stop them but they insisted," a senior police official said.

Another police official said at least 11 protesters were wounded by rubber-coated bullets or tear gas canisters when the violence erupted, while dozens were also treated for breathing difficulties.

Demonstrators had taken matters into their own hands, Kurdish MP Jamal Kochar told told Rudaw.

"Sadir has not asked his supporters to break into Green Zone area at all," Kochar said.

Another Kurdish MP said "Based on our knowledge, we were aware that protesters had planned to enter the Green Zone area," adding that some Kurdish MPs.

Sadr supporters held a string of massive rallies last year, which on two occasions saw protesters break into the Green Zone, which is home to the country's key institutions as well as major Western embassies.

They have been demanding deep political reform since last year.

One of their demands includes reforming the current electoral system. The current seat allocation system for parliament was adopted before 2014 parliamentary polls, after small parties made significant gains in provincial elections a year earlier.

The demonstrations were halted when tens of thousands of members of the security forces launched Iraq's largest military operation in years four months ago to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group.

Rocket attacks

Following the violent protests, rockets were fired at Baghdad's Green Zone by unidentified assailants.

The body coordinating security operations in Iraq said several Katyusha-type rockets were fired from within Baghdad at the Green Zone, which houses most of the country's key institutions.

"Several Katyusha rockets fired from the Baladiyat and Palestine Street areas landed in the Green Zone," the Joint Operations Command said in a statement, without specifying who fired them.

Police and interior ministry officials confirmed to AFP that several rockets were fired at the area but could not specify what the presumed target was nor whether there were any victims.

"Several rockets, maybe six or seven, struck the Green Zone. I can hear the siren is being sounded in the area," Maysoon Damaluji, a lawmaker who lives in the protected area, told AFP.

A diplomat who also lives in the Green Zone said he heard four blasts.​