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Iraqi PM concedes 'mistakes made' as protesters pushed back in Baghdad

10 November 2019

As monitoring the ongoing demonstrations in Baghdad and a number of provinces through its teams, the commission noted that the security forces continued to use live bullets, tear gas and sound bombs to disperse protesters.

An initial six-day wave of protests was met with brutal force that left at least 157 dead, according to an official probe, a lot of them protesters shot dead in Baghdad.

On Saturday, security forces wrested back control of three bridges over the River Tigris in the heart of Baghdad that had been partially occupied by anti-government protesters. Human rights groups have issued increasingly anxious statements about the tactics being used against unarmed, largely peaceful protesters.

And in the revered Shia holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, protesters' tents were reduced to ashes when security forces fired hot tear gas canisters at them.

They have rejected government proposals for limited economic reforms, and instead called on the country's political leadership to resign, including Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

"Even if the bridges and most of the roads are closed, people are driving all the way around from far-away areas to reach Tahrir", one protester said proudly.

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In al-Sistani's Friday sermon, which was delivered by his representative Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, the top cleric said it is the responsibility of the security forces to ensure protests are peaceful and to avoid using excessive force against the demonstrators.

The prime minister, who announced a spate of reforms during the first wave of protests last month, added that new electoral reforms would be announced in the "coming few days".

When the protests erupted, Sadr threw his weight behind them while the Hashed backed the government.

On Friday, a Hashed source told AFP that the network had brought in hundreds of reinforcements to protect government buildings in the Green Zone from any attempt by protesters to storm them.

Amnesty International said it has found the military-grade canisters were Serbian- and Iranian-made.

More than 280 people have been killed since the protests began in Baghdad on October 1 and quickly spread to the country's southern provinces.

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In southern Iraq, operations resumed at Umm Qasr commodities port, a port official said, after it was closed for almost 10 days while protesters blocked its entrances.

One in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, according to World Bank figures.

The premier has proposed a series of reforms to appease protesters, including hiring drives, raising welfare and launching infrastructure projects.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shi'ite-majority Iraq, held security forces accountable for any violent escalation and urged the government to respond as quickly as possible to demonstrators' demands.

Iraq, exhausted by decades of conflict and sanctions, had enjoyed relative calm after Islamic State was defeated in 2017.

Late on Friday the military said 17 rockets had landed near a base hosting USA forces in northern Iraq.

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Iraqi PM concedes 'mistakes made' as protesters pushed back in Baghdad