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Shots Fired as Iraqis Protest against Corruption in Baghdad

Shots Fired as Iraqis Protest against Corruption in Baghdad

Tuesday, 1 October, 2019 - 17:00
Demonstrators disperse as Iraqi Security forces use tear gas during a protest against government corruption amid dissatisfaction at lack of jobs and services at Tahrir square in Baghdad, Iraq October 1, 2019. (Reuters)

Police used tear gas, water cannon and live fire Tuesday to disperse hundreds of Iraqis protesting in central Baghdad against state corruption and poor public services.

More than 50 people were injured, most of them from tear gas inhalation and some by rubber bullets, in the first major protest against Iraq's fragile, less than year-old government, according to police and medical sources.

Some 3,000 protesters had descended on the main Tahrir Square with Iraqi flags draped over their shoulders or wrapped around their foreheads.

"Those thieves robbed us!" they cried out in condemnation of the political class in Iraq, considered the 12th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.

Others were on the streets to protest at the lack of public services, including rampant power cuts, water shortages and unemployment, particularly among youth.

And some carried portraits of Staff Lieutenant General Abdul Wahhab al-Saadi, who was this week removed from his post in Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service in a shock move.

The Iraqi government urged restraint and Sadrist movement leader cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on the authorities to open a probe in the developments.

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.

Riot police cleared the square a first time but the demonstrators regrouped, making their way to a bridge into the high-security Green Zone where government offices and foreign embassies are present.

Security forces then fired a steady volley of live shots which continued even after the crowds had dispersed into adjacent neighborhoods.

A security source inside the Green Zone told AFP that reinforcements had been requested to prevent the protesters from entering the area.

The gathering was the biggest demonstration against Abdul Mahdi since he came to power in late October 2018.

The protests over poor services echoed those that engulfed the southern city of Basra last summer.

Despite simmering frustration with the premier, streets in Baghdad had remained relatively quiet, before a confluence of factors apparently reignited public anger.

Graduates have slammed the government for failing to hire them in a country where a vast majority of the labor force is employed by a bloated public infrastructure.

According to the World Bank, youth unemployment in Iraq is running at around 25 percent, double the national average.

Abdul Mahdi has also taken flak over last week's decommissioning of Saadi, feted as a national hero for recapturing Iraqi territory from the ISIS group.

Iraq saw massive protests last year which first erupted in the south. 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 UN sanctions, the 2003 US-led invasion and war it unleashed, and the battle against ISIS, which was declared won in 2017. Graft is widespread and basic services like power and water are lacking.

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