Iraqi security forces have regained control over three bridges in the central parts Baghdad, ending days-long partial blockades of the key passageways into the capital city’s heavily-fortified Green Zone by anti-government protesters.
Iraqi forces were able to disperse protesters from the al-Sinek, al-Shuhada and al-Ahrar bridges and expand the safety buffer around the Green Zone, which is home to the offices of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and other government officials as well as foreign diplomatic missions, the AFP reported Saturday.
Baghdad Jumhuriya Bridge — another main bridge that links Tahrir Square to the Green Zone — is still occupied by the protesters.
Over the past two weeks, demonstrators spilling over from Tahrir Square had managed to first take over the al-Jumhuriyah Bridge before occupying the other three.
Security forces have in recent days tried to keep protesters from crossing the main bridges to the Green Zone, amid attempts by certain elements to infiltrate the area.
Meanwhile, an unnamed official said that normal operations have resumed at Iraq’s Umm Qasr commodities port near Basra, which was shut down due to the protests.
All the port’s terminals were operating on Saturday, and ships began to unload cargo at terminals, the source aid.
Umm Qasr, Iraq’s main port in the Persian Gulf, receives the bulk of Iraq’s imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar.
Erdogan: I know who is behind Iraq protests
Also on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdоgаn has speculated that he knows who is behind the recent anti-government protests in Iraq.
“We can guess who is behind the unrest in Iraq,” he said on Saturday, concluding that the unnamed conspirators behind the deadly protests in Iraq were after “dividing the Islamic World.”
Protesters in Iraq have directed their rage at a class of elite leaders, whom they accuse of pillaging the oil-rich country’s wealth while the population grows poorer.
The protests, which began more than a month ago, have often turned violent, with security forces opening fire and protesters torching government buildings.
On Friday, Iraq’s most prominent Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on security forces to avoid using excessive force.
The Iraqi army had warned that its forces will move in to break up any gathering outside Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, emphasizing its determination to put an end to chaos in the streets.
On October 31, President Barham Salih said Abdel Mahdi was willing to resign once political leaders agreed on his replacement. He also called for a new election law and said he would approve early parliamentary polls once it was enacted.
But as the protest movement has dragged on, top leaders meeting in Baghdad, the holy city of Najaf and Erbil — the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region — appear to have reached a consensus over the premier staying in power.
Senior cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who had been supporting the protests and had demanded the government resign, has gone silent as well.
On Thursday, the state-run al-Iraqiya television network aired a recorded address by Abdel Mahdi to cabinet ministers in which he discussed the 2020 budget.
The embattled Iraqi prime minister has proposed a series of reforms to appease protesters, including hiring new civil servants, raising welfare and launching infrastructure projects.