BAGHDAD: Gunfire erupted again in central Baghdad on Wednesday as Iraqi security forces fought protesters in the “Battle of the Bridges” near Tahrir Square.
At least 27 people were injured in clashes at Al-Jumhuriyah, Al-Ahrar, Al-Shuhada, Al-Sinek and Bab Al-Muatham bridges across the Tigris River.
Protesters have confronted security forces for two weeks on Al-Jumhuriyah bridge, which leads to the fortified Green Zone of government offices and embassies. They also massed at Al-Sinek, which leads to the Iranian Embassy, and Al-Ahrar, which is near other government buildings. The demonstrators tried on Wednesday to cross Al-Shuhada, but were met with live ammunition from security forces.
“The riot police hit us with batons on our heads and we threw rocks at them,” said Mahmoud, 20, a protester being treated for injuries after he tried to cross Al-Shuhada. “But then they started firing live rounds at people.”
Security forces resumed firing live ammunition in Baghdad on Monday, after nearly two weeks of using only tear gas to repel protesters. Doctors and rights groups said the police now appeared to be firing the canisters directly at protesters, causing most of the injuries.
More than 260 Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of October in protests against corruption, unemployment and nonfunctioning public services. Protesters have been massing in Tahrir Square for weeks in the biggest wave of civil unrest since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Thousands have also been gathering in the impoverished provinces of the Shiite south. Protesters on Wednesday blocked the entrance to the Nassiriya oil refinery, halting fuel deliveries to retail outlets.
Thousands of demonstrators have also blocked roads leading to Umm Qasr, near Basra, Iraq’s main Gulf port. Operations at the port, which receives most of Iraq’s imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar, have been at a standstill for a week. The blockade has already cost Iraq more than $6 billion, a spokesman for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said. In a televised address, he said Iraq could not afford the economic cost of the unrest, and asked protesters to stop damaging property.
The internet monitor NetBlocks said the government’s blocking of internet access had cost Iraq about $1 billion in October. Access remained blocked on Wednesday after being shut down on Monday and restored for a few hours on Tuesday.
The US Embassy in Baghdad condemned the violence against unarmed protesters, and urged Iraq’s leaders to engage urgently with them.