Iraqi Forces Kill One as Anti-government Protest Takes Over Baghdad Highway

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An Iraqi protester uses a makeshift bow and arrow amid clashes with riot police following a demonstration at Baghdad's Tayaran Square, east of Tahrir Square, January 20, 2020.
An Iraqi protester uses a makeshift bow and arrow amid clashes with riot police following a demonstration at Baghdad's Tayaran Square, January 20, 2020.Credit: AFP

Iraqi riot police opened fire Tuesday amid clashes with anti-government protesters on a central Baghdad highway, killing one person and wounding over a dozen people, officials said, the latest since violence erupted again last week between demonstrators and security forces.

The clashes on the key Mohammed al-Qassim highway broke out when riot police moved in to disperse a crowd of mostly young men who had gathered there. The protesters burned tires, halting traffic along the key artery and some protesters hurled Molotov cocktails, or fire bombs at the riot police.

Police shot live rounds and fired tear gas canisters at the crowd. At least 14 protesters were wounded, their injuries ranging from severe to moderate. One protester died after being struck by a tear gas canister to the head, according to police and medical officials and activists.

As the violence escalated, the police pulled back, allowing demonstrators to take over the thoroughfare, eyewitnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

An Iraqi protester waves the national flag amid clashes with riot police following an anti-government demonstration on Mohammad al-Qasim highway in east Baghdad, January 21, 2020.Credit: AFP

Meanwhile, outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi condemned an overnight triple-rocket attack targeting the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government, and ordered an investigation into the incident, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf said. The Katyusha rockets had fallen near the U.S. Embassy but caused no casualties.

The Mohammed al-Qassim highway connects areas in Baghdad's Rusafa, a district to the east of the Tigris River. Protesters have already blocked three central bridges — Sinak, Jumhuriyah and Ahrar. Blocking the highway threatens to halt movement altogether in the central part of Baghdad.

The Green Zone attack was the second rocket attack to target the area in the last two weeks, amid soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran after a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad earlier this month.

According to a security official, two of the rockets had breached the outermost fence but did not strike near the embassy's heavily fortified walls. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations.

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