Iraqis gather in Baghdad to commemorate anniversary of 2019 anti-government protests

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Hundreds of Iraqis gathered in Baghdad’s central Tahrir square on Saturday to mark the anniversary of anti-government unrest that erupted in 2019, amid tight security and prolonged political deadlock in the country.

With concerns about the risk of street violence, security personnel deployed checkpoints across the city, closed off bridges and squares and erected walls across some of the bridges leading to the fortified Green Zone that houses government headquarters and foreign embassies.

Protesters waved the Iraqi flag and chanted “we want to overthrow the regime.”

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“We took part in today’s peaceful protests because we want our demands to be met... we want security, jobs and our simple rights ... we are not here to fight or shed blood,” said Laith, a young protester from Baghdad.

A few meters from the square, security forces fired teargas to disperse stone-throwing protesters who had tried to tear down a wall blocking the Republic Bridge leading across the Tigris to the Green Zone, according to a Reuters reporter who witnessed the incident.

A military statement said some “infiltrated elements” were assaulting security forces using Molotov cocktails and hunting rifles.

In 2019, protests erupted against then prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government with demonstrators demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty.

More than 560 people, mostly unarmed demonstrators but also members of the security forces, were killed in the spate of popular unrest as Iraqi security forces and unidentified gunmen cracked down.

Mahdi quit under pressure from the protests with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr the biggest winner in an election last October.

Sadr in June withdrew all his lawmakers, nearly a quarter of parliament, and resorted to whipping up street protests after his movement failed to form a government, leading to some of the worst clashes the country has seen in years.

Saturday’s gathering raised fears of more unrest and tension among power-hungry politicians that could further delay the formation of a government after Sadr quit politics at the end of August.

Four rockets landed in the Green Zone on Wednesday during a partial lockdown as parliament was convening, wounding seven security personnel, and another four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad landed around the zone on Thursday.

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