By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Two days of anti-government protests in Baghdad have left at least 21 persons dead and hundreds more wounded, despite the imposition of a round-the-clock curfew in the Iraqi capital, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Authorities also cut internet access throughout the country.
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In a “desperate attempt to quell the demonstrations,” Iraq security forces fired live rounds and tear gas at the demonstrating crowds. AP described the demonstrations as “spontaneous and mostly spurred by woes over [a] deteriorating economy and lack of jobs and services.”
Iraq’s Defense Minister Orders Armed Forces on High Alert
CNN said Iraq’s defense minister has ordered the country’s armed forces to be on high alert. He also deployed extra security troops to Baghdad International Airport, according to a joint statement by Iraq’s Interior and Health ministries.
Before dawn on Thursday, several explosions were heard inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. “The U.S.-led coalition said an investigation is underway, adding that no coalition forces or assets were hit,” AP reported.
Many of the city’s main thoroughfares were closed Thursday morning with a “heavy security presence on the capital’s streets,” CNN said, attributing the news to several Baghdad residents.
“The nationwide demonstrations are among the largest the country has seen in decades. Long power outages, rising unemployment and rampant government corruption have led to growing discontent in recent years,”, the news agency explained.
Iraqi Prime Minister Holds Emergency Meeting with National Security Council
CNN reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi held an emergency meeting with the National Security Council on Wednesday. “The Council stressed that appropriate measures should be taken to protect citizens and public and private properties,” a council statement said. It added that “the government will make all efforts to meet the legitimate demands of the demonstrators.”
Nevertheless, “hundreds of angry protestors stormed the governors’ offices” in the cities of Najaf and Nasiriyah, “setting fire to parts of the buildings,” CNN said, citing state-run Iraqiya television.
US Coalition Calls for All Sides to Reduce Tensions
The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, headquartered in the Green Zone, called on “all sides to reduce tensions.”
In a tweet Thursday morning reported by CNN, coalition spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III said, “The loss of life and injuries — among civilians and Iraqi Security Forces — is deeply concerning. We believe peaceful, public rallies are a fundamental element of all democracies; there is no place for violence.”