Clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters Monday left at least five people dead in the country’s capital, as the sounds of gunfire could be heard echoing through Baghdad’s streets.
Demonstrators trying to breach bridges leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the government is headquartered, were met with live fire, tear gas and water cannons after hurling rocks at security forces, according to witnesses. They later appeared to have crossed the bridge and reached the headquarters of Iraq’s state-run TV on the other side, while also pushing to within 500 yards of the prime minister’s office, the Associated Press reported.
At least five demonstrators and a member of the security forces were killed in the skirmishes and another 60 people were wounded, police and hospital officials say.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have demonstrated in central Baghdad and across mostly Shiite southern Iraq in recent days, calling for the overthrow of the political system. The protests are fueled by anger at widespread corruption, high unemployment and poor public services.
Anti-government protesters stand on barriers set by Iraqi security forces to close a bridge leading to the Green Zone government areas during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday.
Monday’s demonstration came hours after Iraqi security forces gunned down three protesters outside the Iranian Consulate in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
In that protest Sunday night, dozens of Iraqis set tires ablaze and attacked the consulate, scaling concrete barriers ringing the building and lobbing firebombs over its walls. They chanted “the people want the fall of the regime,” one of the main slogans of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
Protesters had tried to bring down the Iranian flag and replace it with the Iraqi one but could not reach it. They then placed an Iraqi flag on the wall around the consulate, the AP reported.
Protesters set fire to close a street in Sadr City during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday. (AP)
The targeting of the consulate brought swift condemnation from Iraq’s foreign ministry, which said the security of diplomatic missions was a “red line that should not be crossed.”
Yet protesters in Iraq have increasingly been directing their anger at Iran, which has close ties to the government, Shiite political factions and paramilitary groups.
The consulate protest also happened a day before the 40th anniversary of Iranian revolutionaries seizing the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which sparked a 444-day hostage crisis.
Iraq security forces have killed more than 250 people in two waves of protests since early October.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.