Iraqi security forces wounded dozens of protesters on Sunday as renewed anti-government demonstrations gripped the capital and Iraq’s south, expressing their anger at poor services and shortages despite religious and political leaders calling for calm.
The mass protests exploded when soaring U.S.-Iran tensions threatened an open conflict on Iraqi soil in past weeks. As tensions between the U.S. and Iran peaked after an American drone strike killed a top Iranian commander and Iraqi militia leader outside Baghdad’s international airport.
Iraqi activists gave the government a week’s deadline to act on their demands for sweeping political reforms or said they would up the pressure with new demonstrations.
The uprising began on Oct. 1 when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to revolt against the government corruption, poor public services and a scarcity of jobs.
Protesters are demanding an end to Iraq’s sectarian political system, alongside early elections and the stepping aside of its ruling elite.
Clashes between protesters and security forces in central Baghdad wounded at least 27 people on Sunday. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse crowds in Tayaran square and the nearby Sinak bridge, wounding 23. Some protesters hurled rocks at police, wounding four personnel, a security official and two medical, according to officials.
Three Iraqi activists said that more rallies are planned in the coming days as the protesters seek to refocus public attention on their mass movement.
Protesters have been in a standoff with security forces on three strategic bridges — Sinak, Ahrar and Jumhuriyah — that lead toward the fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliament postponed a critical session on Sunday due to lack of quorum. Lawmakers were expected to discuss candidates to replace Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned in December under pressure from protesters. The next session is expected to be held Wednesday.
Earlier on Sunday, protests burned tires cutting off main thoroughfares in Baghdad.
Protests were also held in the southern provinces of Najaf, Dhi Qar, Karbala and Basra.
Activists expressed fears that parallel protests planned by al-Sadr’s supporters to take place on Friday could eclipse their peaceful anti-government movement.
However, al-Sadr has emerged as a supporter of the movement. In a statement on Sunday, al-Sadr said he supported the recent escalation by anti-government protesters and criticized the government for not taking a serious action.
But activists said the protests called by al-Sadr supporters to oust U.S. troops could weaken their hard-fought movement.
“We are scared of one side trying to start a fight with the other side,” said Ahmed, 34, one of protest organizer in Baghdad’s Tahrir square. “For our part we are staying calm and focusing on our goals.”