Tens of thousands of people in Iraq have fought pitched battles with police, as they blocked major roads in the centre of capital city Baghdad.
Demonstrators want an end to poverty and unemployment—and the fall of the corrupt, sectarian political system imposed by the US after its 2003 invasion.
Protests in Baghdad have centred on the capital’s Tahrir Square, while thousands of mostly young demonstrators have taken control of key roads through the city.
Students have held sit-ins at their schools and the national teachers’ union extended a strike launched last week. Engineering, doctors and lawyers’ organisations have all backed the protests.
In Basra—a city at the centre of the oil industry—thousands of protesters blocked roads leading to the country’s main Gulf port.
Protesters burned tyres and set up concrete blocks around the Umm Qasr port, south of Basra, after security forces attacked a sit-in. At least 100 people were wounded in battles between protesters and security forces.
At least 256 people have been killed since demonstrations began on 17 October. Protesters in Baghdad have set up makeshift hospitals in Tahrir Square, staffed by volunteer medical workers and rickshaw drivers.
Iraq’s government has been forced to plead with people to end the protests. Prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said the revolt’s impact on the oil industry “shook the political system”.
He said it was “causing big losses exceeding billions of dollars”.
President Barham Salih said on Thursday of last week that Abdul Mahdi was prepared to resign.
It comes after protesters in Lebanon forced the resignation of Saad Hariri as their prime minister.
As in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people in Lebanon want the end of the government and an entirely new political system.
Protests began after Hariri’s government introduced a tax on calls made via WhatsApp.
The protests abated slightly following Hariri’s resignation. But tens of thousands of people stayed on the streets in the city of Tripoli, and protesters blocked roads in the capital Beirut on Monday.
Lebanon’s government hopes the lengthy process of choosing a new prime minister will take the momentum out of the protests.
Hariri—a Western-backed politician—led a coalition of groups supported by the West, and those such as Hizbollah, which is backed by Iran.
Western governments may hope the demonstrations could be used to weaken Hizbollah. Hariri said he could return as prime minister if Hizbollah makes “concessions”.
Supporters of Hizbollah have sided with the government and attacked demonstrations.
But demonstrators have remained united across sectarian divides, and against all of Lebanon’s ruling groups chanting, “Revolution,” and, “All of them means all of them.”