Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has declared a curfew in the capital, Baghdad, until further notice as protests continue against alleged economic problems.
In a statement released on Thursday, Abdul-Mahdi said “all vehicles and individuals are totally forbidden to move” in Baghdad from 05:00 a.m. local time (02:00 GMT).
Travelers to and from the city’s airport, and ambulances, government employees in hospitals and in electricity and water departments, as well as religious pilgrims are exempt from the curfew, the statement added.
It gave provincial governors discretion whether to announce curfews in their provinces.
Government stresses right to peaceful protest
Before announcing the curfew in Baghdad, the Iraqi premier held an emergency meeting with members of the National Security Council.
“The council stressed that appropriate measures should be taken to protect citizens and public and private properties,” read a statement released by Abdul-Madhi’s office on Wednesday, expressing the government’s resolve to make all efforts “to meet the legitimate demands of the demonstrators.”
The council further affirmed the demonstrators’ “right to protest” and “freedom of expression…, but at the same time condemns the acts of vandalism that accompanied the protests.”
Curfews had already been imposed in the Iraqi cities of Nasiriyah, Amarah, and Hilla.
Demonstrations erupted on Tuesday over what is said to be unemployment and poor public services.
On that day, the protesters attempted to reach Tahrir Square, which police had earlier sealed off along with a nearby bridge leading to the Green Zone, where government offices and foreign embassies are located.
Police threw stun grenades and fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Casualties were reported in those clashes.
In a joint statement, the Iraqi Interior and Health Ministries said they “regretted” the violence that accompanied the protests, blaming “a group of rioters” and calling for calm and restraint.
Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Saad Maan said, “Infiltrators were behind the violent acts in the protests.”
In a tweet, prominent Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also called for an investigation into the clashes.
The protests come at a time when Iraq is recovering from three years of war with the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group.