Hundreds of Iraqi protesters remained in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square on Sunday, defying a bloody crackdown that killed scores over the weekend and an overnight raid by security forces seeking to disperse them.
Young men had erected barricades on a bridge leading to the capital’s fortified Green Zone between them and security forces who continued to lob tear gas canisters towards them.
At least 67 Iraqis were killed and hundreds wounded on Friday and Saturday, as demonstrators clashed with security forces and militia groups in a second wave of protests against Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s government this month, bringing the total death toll in October to 224.
Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service said on Sunday it had deployed in the streets of Baghdad to protect important state buildings “from undisciplined elements”.
Two security sources had told Reuters on Saturday that the elite counter-terrorism forces had been deployed in Baghdad and had been told to “use all necessary measures” to end the protests against Abdul-Mahdi’s government.
Counter-terrorism forces beat and arrested dozens of protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya on Saturday night. They broke up the demonstrations in Tahrir Square with tear gas and stun grenades but some protesters have regrouped.
The unrest has broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq, which from 2003 to 2017 endured a foreign occupation, civil war and an ISIS insurgency.
It poses the biggest challenge to Abdul-Mahdi since he took office just a year ago. Despite promising reforms and ordering a broad cabinet reshuffle, he has so far struggled to address the protesters’ discontent.
Political alliances backing his fragile coalition government began to fracture, making his continued leadership increasingly precarious.