Anti-govt protesters storm PM's office, Green Zone in Baghdad, curfew imposed (VIDEO, PHOTOS)
At least three people are reported dead and scores injured after Iraqi state forces used live bullets and tear gas against anti-government protesters attempting to storm the Green Zone area of Baghdad.
Several hundred managed to break through the manned checkpoints into the heavily secured area, and made their way towards the cabinet building. Photos circulated online of protesters posing inside official meeting rooms and the prime minister's press office.
The crowd only retreated once guards began to use live rounds, with video showing that many of the protesters were still milling outside the Green Zone gates minutes later.
A curfew has now been imposed, with state news reporting that “control has been restored, following an unfortunate series of events.”
"Riot police are dealing with anyone trying to damage state institutions in accordance with the law," said a statement from the military.
Hours earlier, the mostly young male crowd gathered in central Baghdad, shouting, “This is the revenge of the people!” and “Don’t side with the corrupt!” in protest against the government's failure to pass a key anti-corruption law.
Friday’s demonstration was called by secular protesters, who are calling for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to overcome bickering among the special interest groups and factions within his government.
Iraq forces fire more tear gas at demonstrators at Jumhuriyah Bridge. pic.twitter.com/hMWis5Uc3g— W.G. Dunlop (@wgdunlop) May 20, 2016
Al-Abadi has also shouldered blame for a worsening security situation, as Islamic State has been allowed to carry out a string of deadly bombings in Shia districts in the capital and other cities.
Iraq forces shoot in air, fire tear gas to push protesters away from the Green Zone. pic.twitter.com/lFB2na5EnY— W.G. Dunlop (@wgdunlop) May 20, 2016
On Wednesday, a market in Sadr City, a stronghold of the influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, was hit by a bomb. Relatives of the victims and Al-Sadr’s supporters were among the rioters.
Last month, al-Sadr’s followers managed to briefly break into the Green Zone, in a similar incident, which led to the sacking of its security chief.
Protesters say rally was peaceful, vow to ‘fight to death to defeat corruption’
Muhanad Munjid, a blogger from the Iraqi Network for Social media who was at the gate of the Parliament building during clashes in the Green Zone, gave his account of the events to RT.
“They killed three protesters, more than 20 injured,” the blogger said, adding that the death of another two remains unconfirmed.
Although the demonstrators were unarmed and the rally was peaceful, police “used boiled water, tear gas, hot water guns” to force them out of the Green Zone, Munjid asserted.
Another emotional Baghdad protester told RT Arabic that there had been a brutal response from police forces despite the peaceful nature of the protest.
“We are peaceful demonstrators, we stand for reforms and they met us with fire, stun grenades, and tear-gas grenades. There are people killed, poisoned with tear gas among us,” he said, while stressing that those that had gathered in front of the Iraqi Parliament building were “peaceful demonstrators” and not “terrorists.”
“We will fight to the death until we defeat corrupted officials,” he said.
Sabah Al-Mukhtar, president of the Arab Lawyers Association, spoke to RT about the underlying cause of the protests and possible future scenarios.
“The chanting so far has been against the government’s corruption,” he said, adding that the people are largely frustrated with the government’s failure to deliver on its promises and tackle the most acute problems.
Al-Muktar believes anti-government sentiments will only gain momentum in the coming months, as there is “no water, no electricity,” and a lack of the government action to solve these problems will mean “people’s frustration is going to continue and the anger of the people is likely to increase over the next two or three months.