Five people have been shot dead as Iraqi security forces open fire on demonstrators following a month-long protest demanding an overhaul of the political system.
Iraqi forces pushed the protesters back towards their main camp in central Baghdad using live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs, police and medics said.
Anti-government protesters were moved from some of the bridges they had tried to occupy during the week and towards Tahrir Square, the main gathering point for demonstrators.
More than 140 people were wounded with many hit by gas canisters and shrapnel.
An anti-government protester during the ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, where the streets are engulfed in flames
Protesters set fire to items and blockade streets during ongoing protests against Government corruption in Baghdad
A protester with an Anonymous mask on his back participates in anti-government protests in central Baghdad
Anti-government protesters set fire and close streets during ongoing protests. One man is pictured waving the Iraqi flag
Iraqi security forces stand guard outside a provincial council building in Basra
Security forces were put back in control of all bridges except Jumhuriya Bridge, where protesters have erected barricades in a stand-off with police.
The bridge links the Iraqi capital’s eastern residential and business districts to government headquarters across the Tigris river.
The clash comes after the government promising reforms aimed at ending the crisis.
An open fire in a street in Baghdad, Iraq, where the street is covered in shrapnel. More than 140 people were wounded
Iraqi protesters set fire to block a street during clashes with riot police forces following a protest and at Khillani square, Baghdad, Iraq
The streets in Baghdad are alight with fire on Saturday as anti-government protests rage on
An injured protester is carried to safety during clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters in Baghdad
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Saturday that political parties had ‘made mistakes’ in their running of the country, recognised the legitimacy of protest to bring about political change and pledged electoral reform.
The Prime Minster said authorities would ban possession of weapons by non-state armed groups who have been accused of killing protesters, and that there would be investigations into demonstrator deaths.
As the violence flared, Abdul Mahdi issued a statement which appeared to take a more conciliatory tone and urged a return to normal life after weeks of unrest that have cost the country tens of millions of dollars, although crucial oil exports have not been affected.
Violence flared in the streets of Baghdad as people choked on tear gas or are hit directly by gas canisters
An anti-government protester reacts to tear gas fired by security forces during the demonstration
Smoke rises to the sky as Iraqi protesters set fire to block a street during clashes with riot police forces following a protest and at Khillani square, in central Baghdad, Iraq
‘Political forces and parties are important institutions in any democratic system, and have made great sacrifices, but they’ve also made many mistakes,’ he said.
He added protests were a legitimate engine of political change but urged demonstrators not to interrupt ‘normal life’.
Mass protests began at Tahrir Square in Baghdad on October 1 as demonstrators demanded jobs and services, and have swelled in the capital and southern cities with calls for an overhaul of the sectarian political system.
It is the biggest and most complex challenge in years to the political order set up after a U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Iraq, exhausted by decades of conflict and sanctions, had enjoyed relative calm after Islamic State was defeated in 2017.
A street is closed off by anti-government protesters in Baghdad. Despite government pledges of reform, security forces have used lethal force since the start and killed more than 280 people across the country
Protesters set fire to tyres in the middle of the roads in central Baghdad on Saturday
Iraqi security forces try to disperse anti-government protesters during ongoing protests
Iraqi security forces stand guard during ongoing protests in Basra on Saturday
But the government has been unable to find an answer to the current round of unrest which pits the entire political class against mostly unemployed youth who have seen no improvement in their lives even in peacetime.
Despite government pledges of reform, security forces have used lethal force since the start and killed more than 280 people across the country.
But demonstrators fear the next target will be Tahrir Square and Jumhuriya Bridge. Fresh clashes erupted after night fall near Tahrir Square, with the sound of tear gas and stun grenades being fired echoing around central Baghdad, as it had nightly for the past week two weeks.
‘Police have re-taken almost the entire area up ahead of us. They’re advancing and my guess is tonight they’ll try to take Tahrir,’ said one protester, who gave his name only as Abdullah.
Iraqi riot police fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters gathering on bridge in central Baghdad, Iraq
Some demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, towards security forces at another bridge, and young men brought unlit homemade petrol bombs up a tower block nearby, preparing for further clashes.
At a nearby makeshift clinic, volunteer medic Manar Hamad said she had helped treat dozens of wounded on today alone.
‘Many get hit by shrapnel from sound bombs and others choke on tear gas or are hit directly by gas canisters.
Fire on the streets in Baghdad, Iraq. At a nearby makeshift clinic, volunteer medic Manar Hamad said she had helped treat dozens of wounded on today alone
People have died that way,’ she said as live gunfire rang out and ambulance sirens wailed,
One man was seen being carried away by medical volunteers after a tear gas canister struck him directly in the head.
The Prime Minister’s remarks came a day after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s powerful senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric, urged politicians to seek a peaceful way out of the crisis and held security forces accountable for avoiding further violence.
Iraqi security forces stand guard outside a near Basra provincial council building during ongoing protests in Basra, Iraq
In southern Iraq, operations resumed at Umm Qasr commodities port, a port official said, after it was closed for nearly 10 days while protesters blocked its entrances.
Umm Qasr receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
Authorities in downtown Basra, Iraq’s oil-rich second city, erected a security perimeter, preventing protesters from gathering on Saturday, after two people were killed there on Friday in clashes between protesters and security forces.
The Kuwaiti consulate in Basra said it was withdrawing its staff from the city, amid the deteriorating security situation, a consular official said.