The Baghdad Operations Command reopens the Shuhada and Ahrar bridges that had been blocked off by protesters, Iraqi media reported on Wednesday, adding that many have been arrested and suffered suffocation during the dispersal.
Iraqi security forces opened fire on Wednesday to disperse protesters gathered on a bridge in central Baghdad, shooting live bullets in the air, a Reuters witness said.
There appeared to be no casualties.
Protesters had blocked the Shuhada bridge since Tuesday afternoon as part of efforts to bring the country to a standstill, with thousands joining anti-government demonstrations in the capital and southern provinces
“More youth started gathering so they kept firing tear gas and live bullets. Maybe four were injured. We didn’t do anything but they came and arrested everyone. The youth are peaceful from the start of the sit-in,” said Qusay Mahdi, a protester on Shuhada Bridge.
Security forces opened live fire again later on Wednesday, this time to prevent protesters from blocking a fifth bridge.
More than 260 Iraqis have been killed in demonstrations since the start of October against a political class they see as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests. In the 24 hours to late Tuesday, security forces shot dead at least 13 protesters
Iraqis have been congregating in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square for weeks, demanding an overhaul of the political system in the biggest wave of mass protests since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Thousands have also been gathering in the impoverished southern Shia heartland.
Protesters on Wednesday blocked the entrance to the Nassiriya oil refinery in the oil-producing southern province of Basra, security and oil sources said. They stopped tankers that transport fuel to gas stations from entering the refinery, causing fuel shortages.
Security forces forcibly dispersed a sit-in there overnight but no deaths were reported, security sources said. Protesters had camped out in front the provincial government building.
In a televised address on Tuesday, Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi said the protests were having an economic impact the country could not afford, and he asked demonstrators to refrain from further damaging public and private property.
Security sources said on Wednesday that arrest warrants for protest organizers arrived from Baghdad to all provinces on Tuesday. Dozens have already been arrested in Basra and Nassiriya, they said.
The US Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday condemned the deadly violence against unarmed demonstrators, and urged Iraq’s leaders to engage urgently with the thousands who have been protesting.
“We deplore the killing and kidnapping (of) unarmed protesters, threats to freedom of expression, and the cycle of violence taking place. Iraqis must be free to make their own choices about the future of the nation,” it said in a statement.