Iraqi demonstrators block Al-Sanak Bridge during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday. -Reuters
Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in central Baghdad on Monday, defying the prime minister's plea to end protests which he says are costing Iraq's economy billions of dollars and disrupting daily life. The protests have broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq since they started on Oct.1. More than 250 people have been killed. Despite the country's oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
"The youth have lived through economic hardships, explosions, oppression. We want to root out this political elite completely. We want to get rid of this gang, then maybe we can rest," said a protester, said a protester, who did not wish to be identified, who had camped overnight in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi appealed to protesters on Sunday night to suspend their movement which he said had achieved its goals and was hurting the economy.
The premier has said he is willing to resign if politicians agree on a replacement and promised a number of reforms, but protesters say that is not enough and that the entire political class needs to go. Operations at Iraq's main Gulf port of Umm Qasr, which receives the bulk of the country's grain, vegetable oil and sugar imports, have been at a complete standstill since Wednesday.
The anger over economic hardship and corruption is aimed at the sectarian power-sharing system of governance introduced in Iraq after 2003 and the political elites benefiting from it. The political class is seen by many as subservient to one or other of Baghdad's main allies, the United States and Iran, who use Iraq as a proxy in a struggle for regional influence.
Hundreds of protesters gathered overnight in front of the Iranian consulate in the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala and tried to set it on fire. Security forces dispersed them using tear gas and live ammunition, security and medical sources said. At least 10 people were wounded included four from gunshots.
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