Clashes in Iraq as protesters resume anti-govt rallies

Iraqi demonstrators taking part in an anti-government protest at Al-Jumhuriyah bridge in Baghdad yesterday, days after Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi's government came to power. The rallies first erupted in the Iraqi capital and Shi'ite-majority sout
Iraqi demonstrators taking part in an anti-government protest at Al-Jumhuriyah bridge in Baghdad yesterday, days after Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi's government came to power. The rallies first erupted in the Iraqi capital and Shi'ite-majority southern cities last October, calling for an end to corruption and unemployment and an overhaul of the ruling class.PHOTO: REUTERS

BAGHDAD • Modest anti-government rallies resumed in some Iraqi cities yesterday, with protesters clashing with security forces and ending months of relative calm just days after Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi's government came to power.

The protests first erupted in Baghdad and Shi'ite-majority southern cities last October, calling for an end to corruption and unemployment and an overhaul of the ruling class.

But internal splits, a rise in United States-Iran tensions and a lockdown imposed by the coronavirus effectively snuffed out the movement earlier this year, leaving a few desolate protesters camped out in squares across the country.

Last week, after Iraq's Parliament approved a new Cabinet headed by Mr Kadhemi, activists promptly issued calls on social media for fresh protests, saying the new Premier was part of the same reviled political class.

By noon yesterday, dozens had gathered at the epicentre of the protest movement in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, an Agence France-Presse correspondent said.

"The people want the fall of the regime!" they shouted, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces blocking off the adjacent Al-Jumhuriyah bridge, which leads into the high-security Green Zone hosting government offices and foreign embassies.

The protesters, mostly teenage boys, managed to clamber over a first barrier on the bridge as security forces responded with water cannon and tear gas.

In Nasiriyah, a protest hot spot further south, dozens of protesters shut off streets with burning tyres and threw rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas.

Their demands echoed those at the previous rallies: early elections under a new voting law and accountability for the more than 550 people killed in protest-related violence since October.

The rallies came just hours after Mr Kadhemi appeared to extend a hand to the anti-government movement by promising to release arrested demonstrators and compensate the families of those killed while protesting.

He also reinstated and promoted General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a popular military figure whose abrupt dismissal by previous premier Adel Abdel Mahdi last September had been a main catalyst of the first protests.

Mr Kadhemi called on Parliament as well to adopt the new electoral law needed for early polls as demanded by the protesters.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2020, with the headline 'Clashes in Iraq as protesters resume anti-govt rallies'. Subscribe