Iraqi riot police opened fire on Tuesday amid clashes with anti-government protesters on a central Baghdad highway, wounding at least nine, officials said, the latest since violence erupted again last week between demonstrators and security forces.
The clashes on the key Mohammed al-Qassim highway broke out when riot police moved in to disperse a crowd of mostly young men who had gathered there. The protesters burned tires, halting traffic along the key artery and some protesters hurled Molotov cocktails, or fire bombs at the riot police.
Police shot live rounds and fired tear gas canisters at the crowd. It was not immediately known how serious the wounds of the nine protesters were.
As the violence escalated, the police pulled back, allowing demonstrators to take over the thoroughfare, eyewitnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.
Meanwhile, outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi condemned an overnight triple-rocket attack targeting the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government, and ordered an investigation into the incident, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf said. The Katyusha rockets had fallen near the U.S. Embassy but caused no casualties.
The Mohammed al-Qassim highway connects areas in Baghdad's Rusafa, a district to the east of the Tigris River. Protesters have already blocked three central bridges — Sinak, Jumhuriyah and Ahrar. Blocking the highway threatens to halt movement altogether in the central part of Baghdad.
The Green Zone attack was the second rocket attack to target the area in the last two weeks, amid soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran after a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad earlier this month.
According to a security official, two of the rockets had breached the outermost fence but did not strike near the embassy's heavily fortified walls. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations.