Iraqi security forces used tear gas against a few hundred protesters gathered in central Baghdad on Thursday, hours after a curfew was announced in the Iraqi capital on the heels of two days of deadly violence that gripped the country amid anti-government protests.
Before dawn, explosions were heard inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government offices and foreign embassies. The U.S.-led coalition said an investigation is underway, adding that no coalition forces or assets were hit.
At least 10 were killed overnight Wednesday including police forces, in addition to the nine people reportedly to be killed earlier in the day and hundreds who have been wounded since the violence and clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators first erupted on Tuesday.
The curfew was announced early Thursday following a meeting of Iraq’s top leaders to discuss anti-government protests that have engulfed the country.
Authorities say the curfew is meant to “protect general peace” and protect protesters from “infiltrators” who committed attacks against security forces and public property. It excludes travelers to and from the Baghdad airport.
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Two border Iran border crossings, Khosravi and Chazabeh, have been closed since late Wednesday, semi-official news agency Mehr reported.
A senior Iranian pilgrimage official told state television that the Khosravi border crossing was closed, but other crossings were open ahead of an annual Shi'ite Muslim pilgrimage in Iraq.
Baghdad streets were largely deserted Thursday morning. In central Tahrir Square, hundreds of young protesters were gathered, and police fired tear gas canisters every now and then.
The U.S.-led coalition, which has a presence on the ground in Iraq, issued a statement saying it is monitoring the protests and added that “we call on all sides to reduce tensions and reject violence” as the loss of life and injuries among civilians and Iraqi security forces was deeply concerning.
Coalition spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III, said that on Thursday morning, explosions were heard in the Green Zone. He said Iraqi forces were investigating and that no coalition facility was struck. “Coalition troops always reserve the right to defend ourselves, attacks on our personnel will not be tolerated,” he said.
The protests, which have taken place in different provinces across Iraq, appear to be spontaneous and without political leadership, organized by people on social media against corruption and lack of basic services, such as electricity and water.
Dozens of university graduates unable to find jobs in the corruption-plagued but oil-rich country also joined the rallies. Politicians denounced the violence and at least one, influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, called for an investigation.
On Wednesday, at least seven people were killed and dozens were wounded in clashes that spread across Iraq despite a massive security dragnet mounted by the government in an effort to quash the economically-driven protests. On Tuesday, protests had left two dead _ one in Baghdad and another in the city of Nasiriyah _ and over 200 wounded.
Reuters contributed to this report.