Baghdad Wakes to Sounds of Helicopters, Talk of a People’s ‘Revolt’ – Voice of America

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Baghdad woke Saturday to the early morning sounds of helicopters flying overhead, most of them heading in and out of the fortified International Zone after protesters defied bullets and tear gas to storm the area.


As they fled the gunfire and tear gas Friday afternoon, some carrying their injured friends across the bridge away from the IZ, the anti-government protesters vowed they would return – but with weapons.


Many are followers of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who, like many of the political leaders in Iraq, has his own armed militia known as the Peace Brigades.


Sadr has come out in support of what he describes as the people’s “revolt” against the government.


A mourner reacts during the funeral of anti-government protesters who were killed by Iraqi security forces when they opened fire on protesters who stormed into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Iraq, May 21, 2016.

A mourner reacts during the funeral of anti-government protesters who were killed by Iraqi security forces when they opened fire on protesters who stormed into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Iraq, May 21, 2016.


Overnight, at least two large Chinook helicopters, typically used to ferry troops, were seen flying into the IZ under cover of darkness.


But by late Saturday morning most of the city had returned to normal.


Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi condemned the Friday demonstrations after the crowd broke into several government buildings, including the prime minister’s office.


“Storming into state institutions and tampering with public property cannot be accepted and tolerated,” Abadi said.


But Abadi’s leadership is seen as weak. His previous denunciation of protesters who forced their way into the IZ three weeks ago to take over parliament has been clearly ignored.


Iraqi riot police spray water and tear gas to prevent protesters from storming the provincial council building during a demonstration in Basra, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, May 21, 2016.

Iraqi riot police spray water and tear gas to prevent protesters from storming the provincial council building during a demonstration in Basra, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, May 21, 2016.


Squeezed by years of violence and a deepening economic crisis, Iraqis are fed up with government corruption and the leadership’s inability to protect them from repeated rounds of violence.


Friday’s demonstration followed a series of bombings in Baghdad that left more than 100 dead and hundreds more wounded; mostly Shi’ites from the city’s poorer neighborhoods.


Abadi’s attempts to ease tensions by restructuring the government have failed, and he has not been able to pull together the different political factions squabbling for power.

Baghdad Wakes to Sounds of Helicopters, Talk of a People’s ‘Revolt’ – Voice of America