Iraqi protesters hold Baghdad square after night of clashes
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi anti-government protesters remained in Baghdad's central Tahrir Square on Sunday after a night of clashes with security forces who failed to evict them. Elite counterterrorism forces and state-backed militias meanwhile deployed across the capital to protect political party offices and militia headquarters.
Iraqis have launched two waves of mass protests this month, calling for the resignation of a government they blame for corruption, economic mismanagement and poor public services. Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said at least 70 people have been killed since the protests resumed Friday, including 17 in Baghdad. At least 149 people were killed in the first wave of protests.
The protests have been concentrated in Baghdad and the Shiite south and are directed at the Shiite-dominated government. Protesters have also vented anger at Iran, which has close ties to major political parties and backs several powerful militias.
In Tahrir Square, the Iraqis tried to recreate the revolutionary atmosphere of the sit-ins in public squares during the 2011 Arab Spring and subsequent uprisings, with volunteers handing out free food. Similar mass protests are underway in Lebanon, fueled by the same grievances , but the response has been far less violent.
On Saturday, Iraqi protesters sought to dismantle road blocks on a main bridge leading from Tahrir Square to the Green Zone, a heavily-guarded district home to government offices and embassies. Security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to drive the protesters back to the square but were not able to fully disperse them.
Violence has flared in other areas across the south, with protesters storming and setting fire to party and militia offices, prompting authorities to impose curfews in some areas. In the southern town of Nasiriyah, three protesters were shot dead Saturday when they attacked the office of a provincial official.
Protesters and eyewitnesses said unidentified security forces dressed in black arrested 13 activists in Nasiriyah early Sunday. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.