BAGHDAD—Anti-government protesters in Iraq stormed a bridge Wednesday in central Baghdad, where security forces pushed them back with batons and tear gas, wounding dozens. A medic was killed while aiding demonstrators.
The military called on the protesters to stop blocking roads and ports, saying they had cost Iraq $6 billion, and it vowed to arrest those responsible.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks in the capital and across the Shiite south to demand sweeping political change. The protesters complain of widespread corruption, a lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, including regular power cuts despite Iraqs vast oil reserves.
The protesters have focused their anger on Shiite political parties and militias, many of which have close ties to Iran. Across the south, they have attacked party and militia headquarters, setting some of them ablaze.
In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, protesters attacked the Iranian Consulate earlier this week, hurling firebombs over its walls. Security forces killed at least three people as they dispersed the protest. Days earlier, masked men suspected of links to the security forces opened fire on a demonstration there, killing at least 18 people.
Overnight, at least two protesters were killed in clashes with security forces near the provincial headquarters in the city, according to a protester and a medic who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.
In Baghdad, protesters clashed with security forces on a fourth bridge over the Tigris River after previous clashes forced the closure of three other spans, paralyzing much of the city. The protests have been centered in Tahrir Square, on the eastern bank of the Tigris, and the demonstrators have been trying to reach the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies on the other side of the river.
As protesters moved toward the Martyrs Bridge, north of the other three, they passed near the central bank. Iraqi security forces were deployed in large numbers around the bank and evacuated employees, but the protesters did not target the building.
Security and medical officials said at least 29 people were wounded after being hit with batons or exposed to tear gas on or near Martyrs Bridge. They said a medic was killed near the Al-Ahrar Bridge, which has seen heavy clashes in recent days, and another was wounded. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
In Tahrir Square, family and friends called for the release of Siba al-Mahdawi, a 37-year-old activist and volunteer medic who was abducted over the weekend. Her brother, Ahmed al-Mahdawi, said she was taken by masked men dressed in black as she returned home from a protest Saturday. He said the family has received no word of her whereabouts since she vanished four days ago.
“She assumed responsibility for the family after our father died,” he said, adding that she had taken care of her mother and four younger siblings as they struggled to find steady work.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad called on the government to “engage seriously and urgently with Iraqi citizens who are demanding reform.”
“We deplore the killing and kidnapping of unarmed protesters, threats to freedom of expression, and the cycle of violence taking place,” it said. “Iraqis must be free to make their own choices about the future of their nation.”
— U.S. Embassy Baghdad (@USEmbBaghdad) November 6, 2019