Massive protests rock Baghdad

Massive protests rock Baghdad

Agency News

Tens of thousands of Iraqis thronged central Baghdad on Friday demanding the root-and-branch downfall of the political elite in the biggest day of mass anti-government demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

One woman died after she was struck in the head by a tear gas canister, Iraq's Human Rights Commission said, and at least 155 people were wounded as security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters camped out in the capital's Tahrir Square.

Five people died on Thursday night from similar injuries. Protests have accelerated dramatically in recent days, drawing huge crowds from across Iraq's sectarian and ethnic divides to reject the political parties in power since 2003.

Friday, the main day of prayer, drew the biggest crowds yet, with many taking to the streets after worship. By the afternoon tens of thousands had packed the square, condemning elites they see as deeply corrupt, beholden to foreign powers and responsible for daily privations.

Protests have been comparatively peaceful by day, becoming more violent after dark as police use tear gas and rubber bullets to battle self-proclaimed 'revolutionary' youths. At least 250 people have been killed over the past month.

Clashes have focused on the ramparts to the Republic Bridge leading across the Tigris to the heavily fortified Green Zone of government buildings, where the protesters say out-of-touch leaders are holed up in a walled-off bastion of privilege.

'Every time we smell death from your smoke, we yearn more to cross your republic's bridge,' someone wrote on a nearby wall. Amnesty International said on Thursday security forces were using 'previously unseen' tear gas canisters modelled on military grenades that are 10 times as heavy.

'We are peaceful yet they fire on us. What are we, Islamic State militants? I saw a man die. I took a tear gas canister to the face," said Barah, 21, whose face was wrapped in bandages. The U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, has urged all sides to reject violence, adding that Iraq's official inquiry into the early October violence 'lacked sufficient credibility'.