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Iraq is under curfew, internet blackout as government tries to curb protests

Much of the country woke to an indefinite curfew, declared early Thursday by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Without the Internet, people gathered what news they could by phone, sending the rumour mill swirling.

Iraqi security forces fired live bullets into the air and used tear gas against a few hundred protesters in central Baghdad.

Iraqi security forces fired live bullets into the air and used tear gas against a few hundred protesters in central Baghdad.Credit:AP

In Baghdad, the violent crackdown appeared only to have drawn out more protesters to the streets. Several thousand demonstrators were gathered in the centre of the city on Thursday night. Helicopters circled low, hovering over clouds of tear gas as the sound of gunfire rang out.

Protesters piled the wounded into carts and then drove off in a frantic race to the hospital.

Haider Al-Lami, 29, said he had joined the protests because they appeared to have grown organically, rather than as the result of a call from political parties. “This is an uprising from the people who suffer. It represents them and only them,” he said. “I hope this can reform a broken system.”

Abdul Mahdi’s fragile year-old government has struggled to appoint ministers to key positions or to tackle graft that is siphoning money away from public services and into the pockets of politically connected people.

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The corruption is so severe, economists now describe it as endemic. In Baghdad, one of the signs raised aloft just read: “Enough.”

Early on Thursday, the US-led coalition reported explosions inside or near the city’s “Green Zone,” a heavily fortified pocket of land hosting government institutions, embassies and military bases.

“No Coalition facility was struck. Coalition troops always reserve the right to defend ourselves, attacks on our personnel will not be tolerated,” said US Army Colonel Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the coalition.

There are roughly 5000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq to assist government forces in fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group there.

With communications limited across much of Iraq, sporadic casualty reports trickled in from the southern provinces: five in the city of Amarah by early afternoon, then five more in Nasiriyah. Although smaller, the protests showed no signs of abating.

There were also suggestions that political scores were being settled under the cover of the violence.

Security officials reported on Thursday that masked gunmen had burst into the house of high-profile activist and cartoonist Hussein Adel Madani, killing him and his wife, Sara Madani. Their 2-year-old daughter survived.

Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency reported on Thursday that the unrest had forced the closure of two border crossings popular with Iranian pilgrims. General Qasem Rezai, a commander of the country’s border guards, said the Khosravi and Chazbeh crossings had been closed since the night before.

The Washington Post

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