Clashes, live fire amid mass protests in Iraq for 16th week

Fifty injured, two reported killed in overnight protests across Baghdad and southern Iraq

A demonstrator carries an Iraqi flag as he walks near burning tires blocking a road during ongoing anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq January 19, 2020. (photo credit: KHALID AL MOUSILY / REUTERS)
A demonstrator carries an Iraqi flag as he walks near burning tires blocking a road during ongoing anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq January 19, 2020.
(photo credit: KHALID AL MOUSILY / REUTERS)
A massive outpouring of anger and protest across Baghdad and cities in southern Iraq culminated in clashes, burning fires and live fire used against protesters on Sunday night.
It was the 16th weekend of protests since they began in October. More than 500 people are believed to have been killed over the last several months and some 20,000 wounded.
The protesters took a back seat to the Iran-US tensions that exploded in Iraq in late December and early January, as Iranian-backed militias targeted US forces and the US killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. But now they are back.
They are mostly younger people from central and southern Iraq, from the same Shi’ite areas that Iranian-backed militias draw their recruits. However, the protesters’ unifying message has challenged the role of sectarian militias, often targeting the office of groups such as Badr and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
In Najad, an image of Soleimani was burned and a Kataib Hezbollah office was attacked. The US killed Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in the same strike that killed Soleimani on January 3.
While some Iraqi officials want to evict US forces, the protesters are not focused on the US. Iraqi political leaders, including Muqtada al-Sadr, have hedged, agreeing to work with the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Unit militias and also supporting the protesters.
Fires were lit by protesters across parts of Baghdad and closed roads. Mohammed al Qasim bridge and Expressway became a center of clashes. Locals said as many as 50 protesters were wounded and some reports indicated that two were killed.
It was not clear who attacked the protesters Sunday. In the past, the protesters have said militias backed by Iran have shot them using snipers. Local riot police have also used tear-gas canisters to shoot people in the head in the past.
Dozens of roads were closed on Sunday night due to the protests. Riot police tried to push the protesters back to Tahrir Square, but they were prevented from moving them.
Activists worry the government will use harsher methods in the coming days. But the protesters want the parliament dissolved and say they will continue pushing their demands. Live fire has been reported in Basra, Nasiriyah and Baghdad.