BAGHDAD: Clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters killed at least 15 people in an eastern Baghdad neighbourhood overnight, police and medics said on Monday, raising the toll from nearly a week of violence to at least 110 people.
The military said early on Monday it was withdrawing from Sadr city, a sprawling residential district, and handing over to police in an apparent effort to de-escalate tension.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in a phone call that he trusted the Iraqi forces and supported the Iraqi government in restoring security, without elaborating, a statement from the premier’s office said.
Abdul Mahdi said life had returned to normal, according to the statement.
Protests broke out in Baghdad on Tuesday as public anger swelled over jobs, services and endemic corruption among Iraq’s leaders and politicians. The unrest spread to several mostly Shi’ite Muslim southern cities.
Police used live ammunition from the first day and clashes have now killed at least 110 people, according to a Reuters toll based on reports from police and medics. The interior ministry gave a casualty toll of 104 killed and more than 6,000 wounded. It said eight of the dead were security forces.
It is the bloodiest unrest and biggest challenge to Iraq’s security since the declared defeat of Islamic State in 2017 and has shaken Abdul Mahdi’s year-old government.
The government has agreed to increase subsidised housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed and training programmes and loan initiatives for youth.
Iraqi authorities also said they would hold to account members of the security forces who “acted wrongly” in a harsh crackdown on dissent, state TV reported on Monday. The interior ministry denies government forces have shot directly at protesters.
The protesters demand the overhaul of what they say is an entire corrupt system and political class that has held the country back, despite unprecedented levels of security since the end of the war against IS.