Reuters: Iraqi protesters under fire

Baghdad- Debriefer
2019-11-06 | Since 4 Month
 Road closures in Baghdad continue for the third day
Ali says he has seen more than 50 people killed in front of him since anti-government protests began in Iraq last month.
"The first one was shocking - he was someone I knew, and they shot him in the chest," said Ali, in his early 20s and from Baghdad's low-income Sadr City district.
"But we quickly get used to death ... I havebseen people, some of them friends, suffocate, drown, have their skulls split open by tear gas and stun grenades," he said,  added “we can't even cry on their bodies any more ".
Since the start of October, more than 250 Iraqis have been killed protesting against a government they see as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests, according to eyewitnesses and medical and security sources.
There was no immediate comment from the Interior Ministry, which oversees several security force units, but a government report said nearly 150 people were killed in the first week of unrest, with 70 percent of them shot in the head and chest.
Ali leaned on a pile of dirty blankets on the bank of the Tigris under Jumhuriya bridge of  and told the stories of his fellow dead.
Over the past 10 days, hundreds of young men and boys, some as young as 12, have set up tents on and under the bridge, calling themselves the “front line of the revolution” wearing helmets of construction workers, put gas masks on their faces and shout slogans demanding the overthrow of the government.
The bridge, which leads from the square to Baghdad s fortified Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are located, has seen fierce clashes between protesters and security forces.
Protesters, armed with slingshots, have erected barricades of iron sheets and concrete blocks. Security forces have used rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas against them, killing scores on the adjacent Jumhuriya and Sinak bridges.
"We throw them with stones , and they respond by killing us," said Ali, while security froces fired several tear gas canisters .
* Boys under the bridge
A group of medical volunteers have set up a camp  to help the wounded. They say the expired tear gas is causing suffocation .Reuters saw used canisters marked for expiration in 2014 .
A barefooted young man wearing a dirty sleeveless shirt and pants fainted after suffocating with gas. A Reuters reporter saw the paramedics carrying him down from the bridge and putting him in a tuk-tuk cart to take him to a nearby hospital.
Ali is surrounded by a tight-knit group of 10 people , who have been camping under the bridge since Oct. 24.
The group is enthusiastic because of the bloodshed. Many of them came from the poorest neighborhoods of Baghdad where they work as tuk-tuk drivers or day laborers.
Despite Iraq's oil wealth, many people live in poverty and have limited access to clean water, electricity, health care or education. Protesters say corruption is the cause.
"For 16 years (they) say our lives will get better," said an Iraqi named Abbas who declined to give his last name.
Adding "I was born in 2000, and I have worked  since I was 10 and still I don t have more than 5,000 dinars in my pocket."
* Risky nights
Abbas was arrested in the first wave of protests with Ali and other members of the group. They said their phones were checked to identify their fellow protesters. The authorities released them on bail and were told that they should avoid demonstrations.
"I went back to the demonstrations," Ali said. "We have to stay here for the revolution to continue."
All those interviewed by Reuters were wearing bandages on their arms, torsos and legs. They said many of the injuries were caused by the use of liquefied gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets fired by security forces. Some were fired from boats in the river.
 The danger is much greater at nigh, he said. 
A few nights ago at 3 a.m., security forces threw gasoline at their camp, followed by burning rags, Ali said. The rags landed near a group of sleeping boys, according to a video seen by Reuters.
Now the boys stand guard in shifts.
"The second we leave this bridge, the government descends on Tahrir Square and evacuates the demonstrations," Ali said. “They can throw whatever they want at us. But we're not going anywhere." 
(Source: Reuters)

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