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  • Demonstrators try to put out a tear gas canister during an anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 1, 2019.

    Demonstrators try to put out a tear gas canister during an anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 1, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 November 2019
Opinion

“We are peaceful yet they fire on us. What are we, Islamic State militants? I saw a man die. I took a tear gas canister to the face."

A massive demonstration took place in central Baghdad on Friday as tens of thousands of Iraqis thronged the capital city demanding the root-and-branch downfall of the political elite in the biggest day of mass anti-government demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

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100 Killed, 5,500 Injured in New Wave of Protests in Iraq

Five people died from injuries sustained overnight after security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters camped out in the capital’s Tahrir Square. At least 103 people were injured, police and hospital sources said.

Protests, in which 250 people have been killed over the past month, have accelerated dramatically in recent days, drawing huge crowds from across Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divides to reject the political parties in power since 2003.

Thousands have been camped out in the square, with many thousands more joining them by day. Friday, the Muslim main day of prayer, drew the biggest crowds yet, with many taking to the streets after worship.

By the afternoon tens of thousands had packed the square, condemning elites they see as deeply corrupt, beholden to foreign powers and responsible for daily privations.

Protests have been comparatively peaceful by day, becoming more violent after dark as police use tear gas and rubber bullets to battle self-proclaimed “revolutionary” youths.

Clashes have focused on the ramparts to the Republic Bridge leading across the Tigris to the heavily fortified Green Zone of government buildings, where the protesters say out-of-touch leaders are holed up in a walled-off bastion of privilege.

“Every time we smell death from your smoke, we yearn more to cross your republic’s bridge,” someone wrote on a nearby wall.

Amnesty International said on Thursday security forces were using “previously unseen” tear gas canisters modeled on military grenades that are 10 times as heavy as standard ones.

“We are peaceful yet they fire on us. What are we, Islamic State militants? I saw a man die. I took a tear gas canister to the face,” said Barah, 21, whose face was wrapped in bandages.

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