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Iraqi Authorities Crack Down On Protesters


In Baghdad, a major crackdown on anti-government protesters calling for political reforms and an end to corruption.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Overnight, security forces firing live bullets retook three bridges occupied by demonstrators. They wounded dozens and are believed to have killed at least six people. NPR's Jane Arraf has been covering the protests from Baghdad. And she joins us now. Jane, we heard a bit of the violence just now in the introduction. Tell us what you've been seeing.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: So last night, at a medical station near the river, which is near one of the bridges that was being cleared, there were wounded coming in ambulance after ambulance. And people were anguished. The protesters, those who had been on the bridge - they were saying, security forces are killing us.

This morning, I went there to see what was left of that protest. And while it was smaller, there were still confrontations. There were people running from an intersection that protesters are still trying to occupy. And government forces are trying to push them back. And they were running because there was live fire being fired. So there were these crowds of people. And I was hiding behind a building watching all of this. The people in the neighborhood were terrified, as well. So while the crackdown has meant the numbers are smaller, it seems to have meant that the protesters that remain are more determined.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I assume that that means that even though the government has tried to shut down these protests, that may not be what ends up happening.

ARRAF: No. And it's a really worrying prospect for a lot of people because this has gone from kind of a nationalist protest where people were saying that, I want a homeland. It was women, children, families. And now what you have are hardcore protesters, some of them throwing Molotov cocktails. They say those are infiltrators. It's not them. But they are being thrown. And security forces are fighting back.

But then there's also the other face of the protest, which is this empty high-rise building that's become a symbol. And it's full of beautiful paintings. There's a library that's been set up. Protesters are continuing to sleep there because they don't want security forces to take it over. And I met there a nurse. Her name is Hanin (ph). And I asked her why she was there. Her parents don't know she's at the protests. She's supposed to be at work at the hospital. But instead, she's treating the wounded. And here's what she said.

HANIN: It's painful for our people, our boys. They die, and there - no one help us.

ARRAF: She said she wants the U.S. to come and save them - not something you hear a lot. But a lot of people are saying they want U.N. intervention, basically, to save them from their own security forces.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jane, initially, these were economically driven protests against the entire political class there in Iraq. How is that class reacting to this weekend's events?

ARRAF: With concern. You know, I guess it depends how old you are, really. If you're old enough to remember the Iraqi revolution when the monarchy was toppled and people were dragged through the streets, then you probably have a fear of revolution. And then Saddam was toppled. And this young generation, though - the protesters - they don't remember any of that. So there still is a lot of support, particularly among young people. But this started with the demand that the government be replaced. And although that looked like it was going to happen last week, the government is hanging in there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad, thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.