Iraqi protesters dig in to 'bring down regime'

Men react as they carry the coffin of a demonstrator who was killed during anti-government protests, in Najaf, Iraq October 27, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

Hundreds of protesters hunkered down in the Iraqi capital's Tahrir Square on Sunday, defying another night of tear gas and shuttered roads as they pledged to "weed out" the political class.

They have continued to gather despite a rapidly rising casualty toll, with more than 60 people dead since the second wave of anti-government protests kicked off Thursday.

"We're here to bring down the whole government -- to weed them all out!" one protester said, the Iraqi tricolour wrapped around his head.

Government officials including Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbussi have suggested more than a dozen reforms, but demonstrators seem unimpressed.

"We don't want a single one of them. Not Halbussi, not Abdel Mahdi. We want to bring down the regime," the protester said.

The scene at Tahrir was chaotic, with some protesters climbing atop multistorey business centres to wave Iraqi flags and others torching tyres in rubbish-littered streets.

Large tents had been set up and volunteers were distributing food and water to demonstrators.

Notably, women and students were seen in larger numbers.

Two elderly women in traditional black robes and headscarves hopped up on a concrete barrier and waved the Iraqi flag while dancing to upbeat pop music.

"I'm here for the generation that's coming," said one young woman who identified herself as a prenatal nurse.

"Our generation is psychologically tired, but it's alright as long as this is for the next one," she said.

Security forces were positioned on the edges of Tahrir, while elite Counter-Terrorism Service troops and armoured vehicles were seen in surrounding districts.

The CTS said it had deployed its units to "protect vital infrastructure," and its forces were not seen in Tahrir.

The persistent protests have kept the pressure up on Abdel Mahdi, as has a new sit-in by parliamentarians tied to populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

His Saeroon bloc, parliament's largest, launched the open-ended measure late on Saturday in order to achieve protester demands, lawmakers told AFP. 

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