BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Two protesters died in Iraq on Tuesday as police fought running street battles with anti-government demonstrators, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse stone-throwing youths demanding reform of what they see as a corrupt political system.
A Reuters photographer saw one protester die after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by security forces on Baghdad’s Mohammed al-Qassim highway. Fellow protesters carried his body away in a tuk-tuk in clouds of tear gas.
Another demonstrator succumbed to a bullet wound sustained on Monday in the city of Baquba, where at least 50 demonstrators were wounded, medical sources said.
Clashes erupted for a third straight day in Baghdad’s Tayaran Square, in southern cities including Basra, and in the Shi’ite holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf. Mostly young protesters hurled stones and petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
“We call for the resignation of the government, and an independent prime minister who does not belong to any party,” said a hooded protester in Baghdad who declined to give his name.
Outgoing prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi urged an end to violent demonstrations, saying they could further destabilize Iraq at a time of great regional friction.
Iraq has been beset by unrest since Oct. 1. The protesters are demanding an end to what they say is deeply-rooted corruption among an elite that has run Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. More than 450 people have been killed.
President Barham Salih is expected to appoint a new premier this week, state media reported, to replace Mahdi, who has been forced out by the demonstrations.
State TV said Salih had three candidates to lead a transitional government that would ease popular anger, and could make an announcement within hours.
Six Iraqis including two police officers died in clashes across the country on Monday, and scores were wounded.
Protests resumed over the weekend after a lull of several weeks. Demonstrators want to rebuild momentum after attention turned to the threat of a U.S.-Iran conflict following Washington’s killing of Tehran’s top general in an air strike inside Iraq.
The killing of Qassem Soleimani, to which Tehran responded with a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. forces, has highlighted the influence of foreign powers in Iraq, especially Iran and the United States.
Three Katyusha rockets fell inside the capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone housing government buildings and foreign missions, on Tuesday, police sources said. The rockets were launched from the Zafaraniyah district outside Baghdad and two landed near the U.S. embassy, the sources said.
“Embassies are our guests, and attacking our guests is attacking Iraq, especially in these conditions,” Abdul Mahdi said.
(Reporting by Iraq staff; writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by William Maclean and Kevin Liffey)