• Curfew imposed as demonstrators storm capital, later lifted
  • Pressure grows on Abadi as he confronts Islamic State, low oil

Iraqi security forces fired tear gas, water cannons and live ammunition as protesters stormed Baghdad’s center of government Friday, escalating weekly protests against the slow pace of change under Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

At least four people were killed and 90 injured, Reuters reported on its website on Saturday, citing hospital sources it didn’t identify.

Chanting “our Army, the country is wounded, don’t side with corruption,” demonstrators for the second time in about two weeks forced their way into the Green Zone, the secure complex in the heart of the capital that has housed Iraq’s rulers since the 2003 U.S. invasion. As protesters crossed a bridge into the zone, undeterred by tear gas, Iraqi forces fired live ammunition into the air.

“I was suffocating and my eyes were hurting,” said Ali al-Jazaeri, a 23-year-old government employee who was at the protest. “I saw the people running and security forces firing at them and they were falling in front of my eyes. I felt despair and started to cry.”

Rail Against Corruption

Hours later, Iraqiya television reported the zone had been cleared, and some networks said a curfew was imposed. Abadi later ordered for the curfew to be lifted, according to Iraqiya.

Led by supporters of the influential cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, protesters have been railing against corruption and political paralysis for weeks, gathering in ever-larger numbers. The demonstrations turned violent at the end of April when the Green Zone was overrun for the first time. Sadr condemned Friday’s violence by the Iraqi forces and demanded they release detained protesters, according to a press release.

The turmoil puts more pressure on Abadi, whose government is also engaged in a war with Islamic State militants and is being battered by a slump in oil revenue.

Abadi’s attempts to install a cabinet of technocrats as part of a reform program unveiled in 2015 have been stymied by revolts in parliament and intensifying divisions among Shiite political factions. Both the U.S. and Iran are trying to use their influence in Iraq to prevent a collapse of government, according to close observers.

Security reinforcements were deployed on Friday around all Iraqi ministries, the central bank and the Rashid Bank in Baghdad, Al-Mada Press reported, citing an unidentified interior ministry official.

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