Iraqi forces retake key bridges from protesters

Nellie Chapman
November 11, 2019

The Iraqi military does not use weapons to disperse protesters, Abdul Karim Khalaf, the spokesman for the country's Armed Forces revealed on Saturday.

Since the unrest began last month, more than 260 protesters have been killed by security forces who have used live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas in an effort to quell the protests.

Nine were killed in Baghdad, most struck in the head by tear gas canisters, and three died in the southern city of Basra.

More than 140 people were wounded with many hit by gas canisters and shrapnel.

Iraqi security forces wrested back control Saturday of three bridges in the heart of Baghdad that had been partially occupied by anti-government protesters in recent days, AFP correspondents said.

The Kuwaiti consulate in Basra said it was withdrawing its staff from the city, amid the deteriorating security situation, a consular official said.

Abdel Mahdi, 77, came to power a year ago through a shaky alliance between populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Ameri, a leader of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network.

Protesters fear that saboteurs might try to use the unrest to carry out attacks, which risks drawing a harsher crackdown by security forces, and the government has warned against the use of violence against state property or personnel.

Demonstrators take part during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 9, 2019.

Soleimani, who often plays a mediating role during times of crisis in Iraq, met with Sadr and persuaded him to return to the fold, said a source present at the meetings.

"We'll announce our people's revolution from there against everyone who stole from us - Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, Qais al-Khazaali, Hadi al-Ameri!" he said.

On Friday, the country's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani said there should be "no more procrastination" on finding a "roadmap" to end the crisis.

"All government promises of reforms or investigations ring hollow while security forces continue to shoot and kill protesters", said its regional director Heba Morayef.

Abdel Mahdi, President Barham Saleh and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi met on Sunday and reiterated plans to move forward with reforms.

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On Friday, a Hashed source told AFP that the network had brought in hundreds of reinforcements to protect government buildings in the Green Zone from any attempt by protesters to storm them.

The premier has proposed a series of reforms to appease protesters, including hiring drives, raising welfare and launching infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, the streets around Tahrir were in chaos.

But one security source said that the death toll could be as high as seven.

"This is turning into nothing short of a bloodbath", said Amnesty International.

The protesters still hold a portion of the adjacent Jumhuriya Bridge where they have erected barricades in a stand-off with police.

Protesters are now on the backfoot but still occupy part of Al-Jumhuriyah (Republic) Bridge, the southernmost of the capital's bridges and the closest to Tahrir.

"He says he's supporting protests and that we should keep going but he hasn't helped.

Tomorrow, no one goes to work", he said.

Numerous demonstrators, some of whom view Sistani as part of the political and religious system they say is the cause of many Iraqis' misery, took little solace from the cleric's words.

They are demanding profound reform and constitutional amendments.

At least six people were killed and more than 100 others were wounded, according to government officials.

On Sunday, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission and the parliament's human rights committee complained of a "lack of cooperation" from government bodies meant to provide casualty figures.

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