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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Baghdad Protests Turn Violent at Green Zone

by VOA News May 20, 2016

This story was reported by Behn in Baghdad and written in Washington

Anti-government protesters appear to have broken into the International Zone of Baghdad, the seat of the Iraqi government, where most foreign embassies are located.

VOA correspondent Sharon Behn reports hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered Friday near the secure area, popularly known as the Green Zone. While crossing a bridge from Tahrir Square to the zone, she heard explosions and "very heavy gunfire, big booms, big booms" - some of them apparently coming from inside the fortified area.

Then wounded protesters began to flee toward the bridge, as scores of young men rushed toward the Green Zone area. "Protesters are running by me toward the gunfire," Behn reported, heading toward the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

"They're saying, 'We're going to kill Abadi,'" Behn said.

Up to 15 ambulances rushed toward the protest area, but there was no specific information about casualties.

An official at the crisis desk at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said he could not confirm the protesters' location, then told VOA: "We have a situation here, I can't talk."

However, Colonel Steve Warren, the American officer based in Baghdad as a spokesman for the coalition fighting against the Islamic State group, said: "We're fine. Same as last time. They don't appear interested in us."

Warren, whose words were relayed to Pentagon reporters from the Baghdad embassy, referred to a large demonstration two weeks ago when protester overran the Green Zone and entered parliament, forcing members to flee.

The demonstrators, followers of Shi'ite religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr, have been demanding that Abadi step down and a new Cabinet of technocrats be named to run the country.

Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report

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