Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service said on Sunday it had deployed in the streets of Baghdad upon Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s orders to protect important state buildings while security forces were busy with protests.
“Counter-Terrorism Service forces have been deployed in some areas of Baghdad to protect state buildings from undisciplined elements taking advantage of security forces being busy with protecting protests and protesters,” it said in a statement.
Two security sources had told Reuters on Saturday that the elite counter-terrorism forces had been deployed in Baghdad and had been told to “use all necessary measures” to end ongoing protests against Mahdi’s government.
Meanwhile, Hundreds of protesters hunkered down in the Iraqi capital’s Tahrir Square on Sunday, defying another night of tear gas and shuttered roads as they pledged to “weed out” the political class.
They have continued to gather despite a rapidly rising casualty toll, with more than 60 people dead since the second wave of anti-government protests kicked off Thursday.
“We’re here to bring down the whole government -- to weed them all out!” one protester said, the Iraqi tricolor wrapped around his head.
Government officials including Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbussi have suggested more than a dozen reforms, but demonstrators seem unimpressed.
“We don’t want a single one of them. Not Halbussi, not Abdel Mahdi. We want to bring down the regime,” the protester said.
The scene at Tahrir was chaotic, with some protesters climbing atop multi-storey business centers to wave Iraqi flags and others torching tyres in rubbish-littered streets.
Large tents had been set up and volunteers were distributing food and water to demonstrators.
Notably, women and students were seen in larger numbers.
The persistent protests have kept the pressure up on Abdel Mahdi, as has a new sit-in by parliamentarians tied to populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
His Saeroon bloc, parliament’s largest, launched the open-ended measure late on Saturday in order to achieve protester demands, lawmakers told AFP.