Iraqi soldier killed as rockets fall near US embassy in Baghdad

No immediate claim of responsibility for attack, which comes as country is rocked by deadly anti-government protests

Security forces fire tear gas and close the bridge leading to the Green Zone during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, October 30, 2019.  (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Security forces fire tear gas and close the bridge leading to the Green Zone during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, October 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

BAGHDAD — Iraqi security officials said two rockets were fired into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone area, killing one Iraqi soldier.

At least one of the Katyusha rockets fired Wednesday night landed about 100 meters (110 yards) away from the parameters of the US Embassy.

A soldier manning a checkpoint near a restaurant was killed, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The Green Zone is home to several Western embassies and government offices.

The US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq in 2014 (Public Domain/US State Department)

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Iran-backed militias lashed out at the US and Israel over the weekend, accusing them of complicity in the torching of their offices.

The attack came as Iraq has been gripped by anti-government protests in Baghdad and the south against corruption and unemployment, spiraling into angry calls for a total government overhaul.

In the latest week-long wave of demonstrations, at least 100 people have died and 5,500 more wounded, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said.

The commission told AFP most of the casualties were civilians who either suffocated by tear gas, sustained trauma wounds from tear gas canisters or were shot dead.

The number brings the toll since protests first erupted on October 1 to 257 dead and more than 10,000 wounded.

An Iraqi demonstrator waves his country’s national flag during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in the capital Baghdad, October 30, 2019. (Ahmad AL-Rubaye/AFP)

But demonstrators turned out regardless on Wednesday, waiting to see whether the first fruit of their struggle — the ouster of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi — was finally within reach.

As thousands streamed into the chaotic square, quiet talks were underway among the country’s leaders over the premier’s fate.

Abdel Mahdi, 77, came to power last year through a tenuous partnership between populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Iran-backed paramilitary chief Hadi al-Ameri.

But the premier appears to have lost top-tier support, with Sadr calling for his resignation and early elections.

President Barham Saleh held talks with Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbussi and Ameri late Tuesday over the premier’s ouster, an Iraqi government source told AFP.

And parliament has demanded that the premier appear “immediately” for questioning amid speculation he will face a no-confidence vote.

The kingmakers’ alliance between Sadr and Ameri has been ruptured by protests, with Sadr’s Saeroon bloc, the biggest in parliament, endorsing the demonstrators.

Iraqi lawmaker Hadi al- Ameri speaks to the press in Baghdad, Iraq, November 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

The Popular Mobilization Force paramilitary, whose political arm Fatah is parliament’s second-biggest bloc and is chaired by Ameri, has so far backed the government.

But Sadr extended an invitation to Ameri late Tuesday to coordinate on a no-confidence vote in Abdel Mahdi and used Twitter to urge the premier to “Get out!”

Hours later, Ameri announced he and Sadr would “work together to achieve the people’s demands,” hinting he may agree to a vote on the premier’s future.

Sadr took to Twitter again on Wednesday to pile on pressure, warning that keeping Abdel Mahdi would “turn Iraq into Syria or Yemen” — countries both engulfed in bloody wars.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iraqis they should find legal ways to resolve crises instead of hitting the streets.

“The people of Iraq and Lebanon have some demands that are rightful, but they should know these demands can only be realised within the legal frameworks,” said Khamenei.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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