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Three dead, dozens hurt in Iraq protests

Anti-government protesters set fires and close streets during ongoing protests in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. Black smoke filled the air as protesters burned tires to block main roads in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, expressing their anger at poor services and shortages despite religious and political leaders calling for calm. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

BAGHDAD, Jan 21, (Agencies): Iraqi security forces fired tear-gas and live rounds during clashes with anti-government protesters overnight and Monday morning in Baghdad, killing three and wounding dozens of demonstrators, officials said.

Separately, three katyusha rockets landed in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government and home to several foreign embassies, but caused no injuries or damage, two security officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The clashes prompted authorities to close key streets and thoroughfares leading to the Iraqi capital’s center.

The violence was the latest since protests in Iraq reignited last week after a brief lull amid soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran following a US drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad earlier this month.

Anti-government protests have similarly resumed in Lebanon after a brief hiatus, entering a new, violent phase as anger against a worsening economic crisis and politicians’ inaction mounts. Hundreds of people were injured over the weekend as security forces fired tear-gas and rubber bullets in clashes in downtown Beirut.

The rockets landed close to the US embassy in the Green Zone, and are the latest in several similar attacks. As in the other incidents, the perpetrators were not immediately known but the strike comes during a sensitive time as the US and Iran step back from taking further escalating action on Iraqi soil. Two rockets fell in the Green Zone on Jan 8.

In Baghdad, the tear-gas and live rounds were fired near Sinak Bridge and also the nearby Tayaran Square, which have been the scene of violence in recent days, medical and security officials said. A gunshot wound killed one protester, while a second died after being struck in the head by a teargas canister, medical officials said.

A third later succumbed to his injuries, the officials said. A statement from the Baghdad Operations Command said fourteen officers were wounded by a group of rock-throwing “inciters of violence ” while trying to secure the entrance to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement.

Among the dead was Yousif Sattar, 21, a local journalist covering the protest movement, one medical official and an activist said. “Despite these actions our forces continued to exercise restraint and follow up on the security duties assigned to them,” said the statement.

A security official said at least nine arrests have been made so far after the National Security Council authorized security forces to arrest demonstrators seen blocking main thoroughfares and roundabouts.

The UN envoy to Iraq, meanwhile, urged Iraqi political elites to resume pushing for reforms and for protests to remain peaceful. NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations Dr John Manza and his delegation met with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq Abdulkarim Mostafa and his team at NATO headquarters Tuesday.

Mustafa and Dr Manza discussed the current state of the NATO Mission in Iraq and cooperation between Iraq and NATO, said a NATO statement. “They agreed that strong cooperation between Iraq and NATO is of mutual benefit. NATO remains committed to our training mission in Iraq, which contributes to the fight against terrorism,” it added. Earlier this month, NATO suspended its training mission in Iraq following the killing in Baghdad of Gen Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, which is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, by an US drone strike. Speaking at a news conference in Brussels on Jan 6, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “we have for the time being suspended our training on the ground (in Iraq).” “NATO is prepared to continue our training and capacity building when the situation permits,” he said.

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