Thousands of Iraqis gather to mark 2019 anti-government protest

Dozens of Iraqis were injured after violence erupted when thousands of Iraqis gathered in Baghdad to mark the third anniversary of nationwide protests against corruption.

Protesters waved the Iraqi flag and chanted “we want to overthrow the regime” as they met on Saturday in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square.

Many brandished portraits of those killed, and hailed as “martyrs”, in the wave of rallies three years ago – when at least 600 people were killed and tens of thousands more wounded.

Security personnel were deployed across the city and closed off bridges and squares near the fortified Green Zone that houses government headquarters and foreign embassies.

“Today, it is essential to confront power,” activist Ali al-Habib said.

“All the bridges and roads are blocked because the authorities are afraid of the protesters,” he added, condemning “infighting within the political class, which completely ignores the will of the people”.

Tear gas was launched at the protesters who responded by throwing petrol bombs and stones, Al Jazeera’s Ali Hashem said from Baghdad. “Today, these people are back to the streets to remind the political establishment that they want it to fall,” he said.

The unprecedented protests of October 2019 lasted for months until the introduction of coronavirus restrictions. Demonstrators condemned rampant unemployment and decaying infrastructure.

“We took part in today’s peaceful protests because we want our demands to be met … We want security, jobs and our simple rights … We are not here to fight or shed blood,” said Laith, a young protester from Baghdad.Demonstrators gathered on Al-Jumhuriya Bridge attempted to overcome a series of barriers set up by security forces to block access to the fortified Green Zone.

In response, the police threw smoke grenades at the crowd, which left at least 28 protesters suffering from breathing difficulties as a result, according to an interior ministry official.

The current political crisis stems from a dispute between Muqtada al-Sadr – who commands the support of millions of Iraqis, and whose bloc came out on top in October’s parliamentary elections – and his rivals the Coordination Framework.

Al-Sadr wants snap elections and the dissolution of parliament, but the Coordination Framework wants a new head of government appointed before any new polls are held.

Violence erupted on August 29 between rival Iran-backed factions and the army in which more than 30 al-Sadr supporters were killed after he announced he is leaving politics.

On Wednesday, supporters of al-Sadr attempted to storm the Green Zone as the Iraqi parliament held a session on the resignation of its speaker. They tried to advance past security forces guarding the parliament but were confronted by riot police.

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