Iraqi police open fire, use tear gas and water cannon to disperse Baghdad protests

Police used tear gas, water cannon and live fire to disperse demonstrators in Baghdad on Tuesday, wounding several people as thousands of Iraqis rallied in protest against unemployment, government corruption and poor services.

Police initially opened fire in the air and it was not clear if they subsequently shot into the crowd, but Reuters reporters saw five protesters with blood covering their faces. Ambulances rushed in to transport more wounded.

The protesters, numbering about 3,000, had tried to cross a bridge leading into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

Security forces, who had blocked roads, used stun grenades and water cannons to push back crowds. Protesters refused to leave and so security forces opened fire.

“This is not a government, it is a bunch of parties and militias who destroyed Iraq,” said one protestor who declined to give his name out of fear of reprisal.

Shi’ite Muslim militias known as Popular Mobilisation Forces play a large role in Iraqi politics and have representation in parliament and government.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who chaired the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, issued a statement promising jobs for graduates. He instructed the oil ministry and other government bodies to start including a 50% quota for local workers in subsequent contracts with foreign companies.

Iraq saw massive protests last year which first erupted in the south, heartland of the Shi’ite majority. Clashes took place between security forces and protesters incensed by collapsing infrastructure, frequent power cuts, and widespread corruption.

Oil-rich Iraq has suffered for decades under the rule of Saddam Hussein and U.N. sanctions, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and civil war it unleashed, and the battle against Islamic State, which was declared won in 2017. Graft is widespread and basic services like power and water are lacking.

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