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January 27, 2020

Rockets hit near US embassy in Baghdad


January 27, 2020

Baghdad: A volley of rockets landed near the US embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad Sunday, two security sources told AFP, in the latest unclaimed attack on American installations in the country.

AFP reporters heard loud thuds emanating from the western bank of the Tigris, where the US embassy and most other foreign diplomatic missions are located. One security source said three Katyusha rockets hit near the high-security compound while another said as many as five struck the area.

Later Iraq’s security forces said in a statement that five rockets hit the high-security Green Zone with no casualties. It did not mention the US embassy.

The rocket fire comes two day after thousands massed in Baghdad in response to a call by populist cleric Moqtada Sadr for a rally to demand the ouster of US troops from Iraq. America’s military presence has been a hot-button issue in Iraq since a US strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and a top Iraqi commander outside Baghdad airport on January 3.

Around 5,200 US troops are in Iraq to lead a global coalition fighting the Islamic State group, but Iraq said the strike against Soleimani violated that mandate. Sunday’s attack was the latest in a series of rocket fire this month targeting the Green Zone, where the Iraqi parliament is also located.

Parliament earlier this month urged the departure of US troops from Iraq, which has been gripped by anti-government protests since October.Meanwhile, security forces shot live rounds to clear protest hotspots in Baghdad and southern Iraq for a second day Sunday, sparking skirmishes with demonstrators determined to keep up their movement.

Violence has resurged in the capital and the majority south this week, with more than 15 people killed as anti-government activists ramped up their road closures and sit-ins while security forces sought to snuff out the campaign.

On Saturday, four protesters were shot dead as riot police stormed protest camps across the country, according to medics, stoking fears of a broader crackdown. But the demonstrators returned in large numbers throughout the evening and by Sunday morning, they were rallying again.

In Basra, hundreds of students protested over riot police’s dismantling of their main protest camp the previous day, according to an AFP correspondent. Others gathered in the holy city of Najaf and university students led a protest in Kut, where they erected new tents to replace those taken down the previous day.

In Baghdad, young demonstrators on Saturday flooded their main encampment at Tahrir Square and security forces continued using live rounds the next morning in a bid to disperse small rallies in nearby Khallani and Wathba squares.

That left at least 17 protesters wounded, a police source told AFP, but security forces stopped short of entering Tahrir Square. University students were planning to march on Sunday from a Baghdad campus to Tahrir Square, and other student-led rallies are planned for this week.

The young demonstrators have mostly thrown rocks at riot police but some have tossed Molotov cocktails. In Nasiriyah to the south, security forces Sunday also fired live rounds to disperse protesters, who were angered by authorities pushing them out of thoroughfares around their main protest camp in Habbubi Square.

At least 50 protesters suffered bullet wounds and around 100 were impacted by tear gas in brief skirmishes, a medical source told AFP. The youth-dominated protests erupted on October 1 in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and rampant corruption.

They spiralled into outraged calls for a government overhaul after they were met with violence. Protesters are now specifically demanding snap elections, the appointment of an independent premier and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed.

Parliament has passed a new electoral law and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi submitted his resignation in December, but he still serves in a caretaker role and authorities have otherwise failed to act on the protesters’ demands.

"Unaccountability and indecisiveness are unworthy of Iraqi hopes, courageously expressed for four months now," the United Nations’ top Iraq official, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said on Saturday.

"While death and injury tolls continue to rise, steps taken so far will remain hollow if not completed." Activists have long worried that their movement could be snuffed out after firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr dropped his support on Friday.

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