Funerals held for 2 killed in Friday protests

AP News
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Posted: May 21, 2016 6:39 PM
Funerals held for 2 killed in Friday protests

BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds gathered in Baghdad's Sadr City Saturday as families held funerals for two people killed in protests a day earlier. The coffins for the two men were hoisted above the crowds of mourners before being driven to the holy city of Najaf for burial.

The men — Hussein Hasab, 21, and Haider Hassan, 43 — died of gunshot wounds Friday after thousands, mostly supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, surged up to the walls of Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone compound. Hasab was shot in the head.

Mourners chanted against corruption and in support of government reform. "Our demonstration is peaceful," yelled the crowd, "long Live al-Sadr!"

Their coffins bore the insignia of Saraya Salam, the militia loyal to al-Sadr previously known as the Mahdi army. Al-Sadr's militia fighters were also present at the funerals. Al-Sadr's office said the men were there to maintain security and protect against the threat of Islamic State group attacks.

On Friday, security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at a crowd of mostly al-Sadr supporters when hundreds breached the compound and entered the Prime Minister's offices and Parliament.

Police and hospital officials said the clashes left more than a hundred protesters injured, five seriously. A handful of members of the security forces were also injured with knife wounds, according to a statement from Iraq's military.

Friday's breach was the second time in a month that protesters managed to overrun the compound that's home to most of Iraq's ministries and foreign embassies.

The Green Zone breach ratchets up the pressure on an Iraqi government that remains gridlocked amid the political crisis. Since the Green Zone was overrun last month, parliament has been unable to convene. Many lawmakers are boycotting sessions citing security concerns. This leaves Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi without the ability to pass legislation and unable to implement the government reforms that al-Sadr and his supporters say the protests are demanding.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama and al-Abadi spoke by phone and "agreed on the critical importance of improving the security" of Baghdad and the Green Zone, emphasizing the "importance of continued dialogue among all parties in Iraq," according to a statement issued by the White House Press Office. It added that the two leaders also discussed progress being made in the campaign against the Islamic State.

Iraq is struggling to contain a security crisis in the midst of the political disarray.

A wave of terrorist bombings in and around Baghdad killed more than 200 Iraqis in a single week and wounded hundreds more. The deadliest attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group, who Iraqi ground forces continue to fight on front-lines in the country's west and north. Despite a string of territorial victories against IS, the extremist group remains capable of carrying out deadly terrorist attacks deep inside Iraqi government controlled territory.

Saturday a suicide bombing in Dujail, 50 miles (80 kilometers) miles north of Baghdad targeting a government complex killed four and wounded 10, according to hospital and police officials.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

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Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Karim Kadim in Baghdad contributed to this report.