Iraq: Rockets hit Baghdad's Green Zone, killing one soldier

Officials say one of the Katyusha rockets landed about 100 metres away from the perimeter of the US embassy.

    Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone houses government buildings and foreign embassies [File: Anadolu]
    Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone houses government buildings and foreign embassies [File: Anadolu]

    Rockets slammed into the Iraqi capital's heavily fortified Green Zone and killed a member of the security forces, the military said.

    Witnesses reported seeing projectiles flying towards the Green Zone, which houses Iraq's government buildings and foreign embassies, and blasts were heard coming from the area on Wednesday.

    Security officials said one of the Katyusha rockets landed about 100 metres (110 yards) away from the perimeter of the United States embassy, triggering alert sirens.

    Earlier this week, three rockets struck a large military base north of Baghdad that houses US and Iraqi forces. No casualties were reported from that attack.

    Wednesday's attack came amid six consecutive days of anti-government protests that have rocked the Iraqi capital and several key cities across the southern provinces.

    Security forces have fired tear gas and live ammunition to push back protesters trying to penetrate the heavily fortified area in Baghdad.

    Iraq's semi-official human rights commission said 100 people have been killed and more than 5,000 wounded since Friday, when protests resumed after a three-week hiatus.

    The deaths bring to nearly 250 the overall number of people killed this month as security forces crack down on the growing protest movement.

    Scores killed as Iraq forces clash with protesters

    Protesters killed

    Later on Wednesday, hundreds of people headed to the Al-Sanak Bridge that runs parallel to the Joumhouriya Bridge, opening a new front in their attempts to cross the Tigris River to the Green Zone.

    Security forces fired volleys of tear gas that billowed smoke and covered the night sky. Security and hospital officials said two protesters were killed in the vicinity of Tahrir Square, which has emerged as the epicentre of the protests.

    Earlier in the day, the mood was festive in the square, despite the nearby tear gas. Barbers gave free haircuts to protesters. Young men grilled carp fish for a national dish called masgouf and distributed it to the crowds. Others played dominoes, oblivious to the chaos all around.

    "We are now in Tahrir Square, which is called nowadays 'the holy land,' supporting our sons, brothers and friends who are here [protesting], to show a civilised image of the protest to the whole world," said Jenan Kareem, a middle-aged Iraqi woman who joined the protests.

    Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets this week in a second wave of protests against a government and political elite they say is corrupt and out of touch with the plight of ordinary Iraqis.

    The mass demonstrations have been met with a combative response from security forces, who have used tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition against those taking to the streets.

    Many protesters say the country's vast oil wealth has not adequately trickled down to its citizens, with millions lacking access to adequate healthcare, education, clean water and electricity.

    In recent months, rising tensions between Baghdad's two main allies, the United States and Iran, have raised fears among many Iraqis of their country being caught in the middle of the escalating struggle between Washington and Tehran for regional influence.

    Both the US and Iran enjoy significant political and military influence in Iraq, and protesters this month have accused the political elite of being subservient to one or the other without concern for the Iraqi people.

    Iraq protests persist in defiance of Baghdad curfew

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies