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Iraq forces clear protest sites as leaders back PM

AFP
Filed on November 10, 2019 | Last updated on November 10, 2019 at 06.23 am

(Reuters)

In Karbala, the tents of protesters were reduced to ashes when security forces fired searing hot tear gas canisters at them.

Iraqi forces fired live ammunition on Saturday as they pushed towards Baghdad's main anti-government protest camp, after political leaders agreed to stand by the cabinet by any means - including force.

Gunfire and steady booms of stun grenades and tear gas rang out as security units approached Tahrir (Liberation) Square, ground zero for the month-long movement demanding regime change.

On Saturday afternoon, AFP correspondents saw people shot in the chest collapse to the pavement before being carried away by tuk-tuks.

"The security forces are getting closer to us, but the protesters are trying to hold them off by burning tires," a doctor in Tahrir said.

"We can hear live fire now and there are so many wounded."

Earlier, security forces wrested back control of three bridges over the River Tigris in the heart of Baghdad that had been partially occupied by protesters.

In Karbala, the tents of protesters were reduced to ashes when security forces fired searing hot tear gas canisters at them.

And in the southern city of Basra, security forces cleared a protest camp outside the provincial government headquarters.

Three people were killed and dozens wounded, according to medical sources, and security forces began rounding up demonstrators.

The crackdown came after political chiefs agreed to rally around embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, whose government was threatened by the largest and deadliest grassroots protests in Iraq in decades.

Abdel Mahdi, 77, came to power last year through a shaky alliance between populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr and Hadi Al Ameri, a leader of the Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary network.

When the protests erupted, Sadr threw his weight behind them while the Hashed backed the government.

But they closed rank around the premier this week after a series of meetings led by Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's foreign operations arm.

Soleimani, who often plays a mediating role during times of crisis in Iraq, met with Sadr and persuaded him to return to the fold, said a source present at the meetings.

"Those meetings resulted in an agreement that Abdel Mahdi would remain in office," the source said.

Sadr has since gone silent amid reports he is in Iran.

Another source said political factions agreed this week to move forward on reforms and constitutional amendments if the premier and government stayed in place.

"They agreed to end the protests with any means possible and to reopen the bridges and shuttered streets," said a senior member of one party represented at the gathering.


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