Rockets hit Baghdad's Green Zone after deadly protest

Protesters running from tear gas fired by security forces after Sadr supporters tried to approach the heavily fortified Green Zone during a protest at Tahrir Square in Baghdad last Saturday.
Protesters running from tear gas fired by security forces after Sadr supporters tried to approach the heavily fortified Green Zone during a protest at Tahrir Square in Baghdad last Saturday.PHOTO: REUTERS

BAGHDAD • Rockets were fired at Baghdad's Green Zone over the weekend, after Iraq's most violent protest in years saw at least seven people killed in clashes between police and demonstrators advancing on the fortified area.

The body coordinating security operations in Iraq said several Katyusha-type rockets were fired last Saturday 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 that several rockets were fired at the area but could not specify what the presumed target was.

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

Several main roads were closed and extra security was deployed across Baghdad late last Saturday.

The Green Zone is a vast area in central Baghdad that houses the Prime Minister's Office, the presidency, Parliament and several major embassies, including the huge US mission.

It also shelters Iraq's electoral commission, whose replacement was a key demand of thousands of protesters in the city earlier last Saturday, although it could not be ascertained that both events were linked.

The rally, mostly attended by supporters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, started peacefully, but some protesters subsequently broke away and attempted to force their way past a police cordon to reach the Green Zone.

Security forces on a bridge over the Tigris River used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to repulse the protesters.

At least five protesters were killed and 174 others wounded in the clashes, according to an updated toll by the interior ministry yesterday. A police colonel, speaking on condition of anonymity, said two people from the security forces were also killed.

Sadr supporters accusing Iraq's political class of corruption and nepotism broke into the Green Zone twice last year, storming the Prime Minister's Office and the Parliament building.

A mercurial Shi'ite, Mr Sadr once led a rebellion against US occupation, and recently spearheaded an anti-corruption protest movement.

Last Saturday's protest, one of a series across the country over the past few days, focused on demands for electoral reform ahead of provincial polls slated for September.

The protesters want the members of the electoral commission replaced, on the grounds that they are affiliated to political parties and that the body supervising nationwide ballots was, therefore, anything but independent.

They also want the electoral law to be amended to give wider representation to smaller parties in the country's elected bodies.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Rockets hit Baghdad's Green Zone after deadly protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe