Iraqi protester killed amid fresh clashes on Baghdad bridge

Iraqi protester killed amid fresh clashes on Baghdad bridge

An anti-government protester in Iraq has died after suffering a direct hit to the head from a tear gas canister amid fresh clashes on a strategic Baghdad bridge.

At least 32 others were wounded in violent clashes with security forces on Sunday, just hours after protesters retook control of half of Ahrar Bridge.

The protesters now hold three bridges spanning the Tigris River towards the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s Government.

Protesters stage a sit-in on barriers on the Ahrar Bridge (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Protesters stage a sit-in on barriers on the Ahrar Bridge (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Security forces had deployed Sunday on the other side of the bridge and erected concrete barriers to keep protesters from pushing into Green Zone.

Two Katyusha rockets also fell in the vicinity of the Green Zone on Sunday but caused no casualties.

One hit the Tigris River and the other fell on an empty football stadium, security officials said.

The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Elsewhere in parts of central and southern Iraq, protesters blocked roads with burning tires, halting traffic and paralysing work following a call for a national strike.

Anti-government demonstrators react to tear gas fired by Iraqi riot police (Hadi Mizban/AP)
Anti-government demonstrators react to tear gas fired by Iraqi riot police (Hadi Mizban/AP)

Since the protests began on October 1, at least 320 people have been killed and thousands wounded in the capital and the mostly Shi’ite southern provinces.

Protesters have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they say is widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services despite the country’s oil wealth.

The leaderless, mass protests aim to sweep aside Iraq’s political elite, blamed for massive corruption.

Bridges leading toward the Green Zone have been a frequent flash point in the protests.

Demonstrators took control of those bridges earlier this month but were later repelled.

The protesters managed to push back on to part of Ahrar Bridge on Sunday after seizing part of Sinak Bridge and central Khilani Square the previous day following fierce clashes.

They were also present in Jumhouriyya Bridge next to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protest movement.

Riot police close a street during ongoing protests in Baghdad (Hadi Mizban/AP)
Riot police close a street during ongoing protests in Baghdad (Hadi Mizban/AP)

Iraqi security forces withdrew from Khilani Square after firing live ammunition and tear gas against protesters trying to tear down a concrete barrier blocking entry to the square.

Protesters also took control of a five-storey garage next to the bridge, giving them a bird’s eye view over the Green Zone and the street below, mirroring tactics employed in Tahrir Square, where they occupied an iconic 14-storey Saddam Hussein-era building that has become a reference point for demonstrators.

Two people were wounded when security forces fired tear gas canisters in renewed confrontations in Rasheed Street, Baghdad’s oldest avenue and cultural centre known for its crumbling houses.

In the southern port city of Basra and in cities like Nasiriyah, Amara and Kut, protesters set tyres ablaze to close off roads, keeping employees from reaching their workplaces.

Schools, universities and other institutions closed for the day.

In parts of Baghdad, particularly the sprawling Sadr City neighborhood, protesters sat in the middle of the streets to prevent employees from getting to their workplaces.

They also blocked roads with motorcycles and tuk-tuks, disrupting traffic.

“There will be no offices open until the last corrupt person is removed,” one protester said, declining to be identified for security reasons.

“Only then we will pull out from here.”

The roadblocks are partly in response to a call by influential Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for a voluntary strike to keep up the pressure on politicians.

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