In Baghdad, the capital, police fired tear gas and, later, live ammunition on about 1,000 protesters who had marched into a central square, their numbers swelling hour by hour Tuesday evening amid a heavy police presence. The tear gas started when the crowd moved on toward the heavily fortified Green Zone. Next came bullets, and a frantic dash to carry bleeding protesters to safety.
In a statement, the country’s Interior Ministry said it “regretted” the day’s violence and blamed “a group of rioters” for inciting it.
Iraq’s Health Ministry said two people were killed and 286 were wounded nationwide, among them 40 members of the security forces. Protests were also reported in the cities of Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah and Basra.
Although Iraq is experiencing a period of relative stability since the Islamic State’s formal defeat here in 2017, protesters said they saw few improvements in the governance that still shapes their everyday lives.
Transparency International has ranked Iraq’s institutions as the 12th most-corrupt in the world. Last month, the country’s health minister attempted to resign for a second time, citing widespread mismanagement and “blackmail.” Abdul Mahdi rejected that move, and infighting has left other government positions vacant, taking months to fill.
Many of the protesters in Baghdad held photographs of one of the country’s most famous war heroes, Lt. Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a former head of Iraq’s counterterrorism force who led the fight to defeat the Islamic State.
Saadi’s removal from his post last week followed weeks of speculation that militia groups loyal to neighboring Iran had pushed for his departure. “You are the one who liberated Mosul,” the crowds chanted, in reference to the punishing battle to free one of Iraq’s largest cities from the militants.
As regional tensions simmer, Iraq’s government has found itself stuck between rivals Iran and the United States. Their proxy battles have played out on Iraqi soil before. Fears are now growing that that might happen again.
Loveluck reported from London.