Seven people have been killed and over 200 injured, as Iraqi security forces crack down on protests. Demonstrators angry over corruption and unemployment put a government building on fire in one of the cities.
Iraqi counter-terrorism troops opened fire on protesters with live ammunition and tear gas outside Baghdad airport on Wednesday, according to a Reuters report. The crowd had apparently been trying to storm the airport, prompting the heavy-handed response.
Elsewhere in the country, seven people have been killed and more than 200 injured in clashes with security forces this week.
Gunfights broke out in Nassiriya and across the country’s impoverished south as demonstrators torched government buildings and demanded an end to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s year-old government. Angry at Iraq’s soaring youth unemployment and accusing Mahdi of corruption, mobs of protesters have picketed state buildings in several cities, and blocked roads with burning tire barricades.
Wednesday’s protests came after a similar day of rage in Baghdad on Tuesday. Around 3,000 people gathered in the city’s streets then, clamoring to enter the fortified ‘Green Zone’, home to government buildings and foreign embassies. Police deployed water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas in an effort to quash the demonstrations.
Mahdi responded by convening an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday and placing military units on high alert. “The council affirms the right to protest, freedom of expression, and the protesters’ legitimate demands, but at the same time condemns the acts of vandalism that accompanied the protests,” the council said in a statement.
The government has struggled to contain the spread of unrest. Curfews have been introduced in the southern cities of Nassiriya, Amara and Hilla, and internet access has been cut off across much of the country, according to one NGO. As was the case with the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, protests have largely been organized on social media and with instant messaging services like WhatsApp.
Two decades of war – the US invasion, years of sectarian violence, and the emergence of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) – have taken a heavy toll on the economy and infrastructure of Iraq, leaving many people lacking the most basic services, such as access to water. General political instability, the emergence of various militias formed to supposedly fight the terrorists, as well as rumored high-profile corruption, have also become pretexts for the protests.