Gunfights break out and death toll rises as violent protests rage across southern Iraq

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The demonstrations were against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment at Tayaran square in Baghdad. (AFP)
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Demonstrators, in Baghdad, Iraq on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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A demonstrator gestures near burning tires blocking a road during a protest over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, in Baghdad on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a protest in Baghdad. (AP)
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A protestor in Baghdad fuels a burning barricade during demonstrations on Wednesday. (AFP)
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A man carries away a demonstrator, injured during protests in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Updated 04 October 2019

Gunfights break out and death toll rises as violent protests rage across southern Iraq

  • The protests started on Tuesday over unemployment, corruption, and poor public services
  • Police and the army opened fire and launched tear gas canisters to disperse hundreds of protesters all over Baghdad

BAGHDAD: At least five people died, including a police officer, and dozens were injured on Wednesday in a second day of protests in Iraq.

Thousands demonstrated in Baghdad and Shiite-dominated southern provinces against corruption, unemployment and the failure of public services such as water and electricity.

Protesters torched government and political party headquarters, and cut off main roads linking Baghdad with the north and south. Riot squads and rapid-intervention forces responded with water cannon, tear gas and live bullets.

 

 

“We want jobs and better public services. We’ve been demanding them for years and the government has never responded,” said protester Abdallah Walid, 27. Unemployed graduate Mohammad Jubury said: “No state would attack its own people like this. We’re being peaceful, but they fired.”

Among the victims of the violence was a child burned to death in his mother’s car as it passed over a tire set on fire by protesters to block the road in Al-Zaafaraniya in southeast Baghdad.

In Nassiriya, the capital of Dhi Qar province 400km south of Baghdad, protesters broke into the provincial council building and set fire to part of it. Three protesters were killed and dozens of people were injured, including security forces. Authorities imposed a curfew from 8pm.

In Babil and Missan governorates, demonstrators stormed the provincial council buildings and set fire to them. In Najaf, Samawah and Basra, they were halted by security cordons.

In Baghdad, thousands took to the streets from early morning, and cut off the main road to Baghdad airport. They tried several times to cross Al-Jumhuriya Bridge toward the government buildings and embassies in the heavily fortified Green Zone, but were repelled by tear gas and gunfire.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi held an emergency session of the National Security Council, and called for calm. After the meeting he contacted prominent tribal sheikhs to ask for their help in halting the protests, but they refused, a senior official in the National Security Agency told Arab News.

In an attempt to thwart the protests, internet access across much of Iraq was blocked and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp were disabled.  Security sources said there was no evidence that the protests were spontaneous. “Whoever says the demonstrations are unorganized, and not backed by some sides, is naive,” a senior federal police officer in Baghdad told Arab News.

“They have paralyzed traffic in all areas of Baghdad by burning tires, and moving toward the airport seems deliberate. These do not seem random or spontaneous actions. We do not believe these demonstrations will end soon, and they may end with the overthrow of the government.”

The US embassy in Baghdad said it was closely monitoring the situation, and called on all parties to exercise restraint and not to use excessive force.

The powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr said he did not want to politicize the protests, but he nevertheless called on his followers to support the demonstrators.

This was seen by many observers as a message to Abdul Mahdi that he must understand the limits of his authority. “Abdul Mahdi came to the post with the support of Sadr and his political bloc, but recently he has moved away from all that Sadr wanted,” Saad Ahmad, an activist, told Arab News. “So I think Sadr will leave Abdul Mahdi to fall now.”


Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Updated 21 min 42 sec ago

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

  • Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.