Iraqi PM concedes ‘mistakes made’ as protesters pushed back in Baghdad

Iran's pointman for Iraq Major General Qasem Soleimani has been in regular contact with Iraqi leaders including populist cleric Moqtada al Sadr

Security forces reportedly fired live ammunition at protesters on Saturday as they approached Baghdad's iconic Tahrir Square, where most of the protesters have been concentrated.

Members of Iraqi security forces are seen during the ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq November 9, 2019.

The clashes wounded scores more people and put security forces back in control of all except one major bridge linking the Iraqi capital's eastern residential and business districts to government headquarters across the Tigris river.

"But we are hearing from witnesses that there was quiet a stand-off between several hundred protesters and security forces".

Earlier, Iraq's Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi said protests were important in bringing about reform but life must be allowed to "return to normal", as protests continued in Baghdad where Iraqi forces retook key bridges from the demonstrators. "The speech won't make a difference either way", said one woman protesting in Baghdad whose son was killed in recent clashes.

Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi had already laid out a series of reforms during the first round of protests that would've satisfied many, but he never delivered on them, which is why protests restarted.

Protesters are now on the backfoot but still occupy part of Al-Jumhuriyah (Republic) Bridge, the closest to Tahrir.

Khazaali and Ameri are leading commanders in the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network, which has publicly backed the government after protests erupted.

"We are told that there are reports of people being killed by security forces using live ammuniation and a lot of tear gas but the Ministry of Interior is denying that any shots have been fired against protesters", she said.

Amnesty International said it has found the military-grade canisters were Serbian- and Iranian-made.

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More than 260 people have been killed and thousands wounded by security forces since the demonstrations broke out in October.

Activists and medics say they have been subject to a campaign of intimidation, with two activists killed in Missan on Wednesday by unknown assailants.

In southern Iraq, operations resumed at Umm Qasr commodities port, a port official said, after it was closed for almost 10 days while protesters blocked its entrances.

Demonstrators complain of widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, including regular power cuts despite Iraq's vast oil reserves.

One in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, according to World Bank figures.

And on Saturday parliament convened to discuss reform proposals, including hiring drives and increased welfare payouts.

His remarks came a day after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's powerful senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric, urged politicians to seek a peaceful way out of the crisis and held security forces accountable for avoiding further violence.

Iraq, exhausted by decades of conflict and sanctions, had enjoyed relative calm after Islamic State was defeated in 2017.

On Friday, around a dozen rockets hit the Qayyarah base - an Iraqi military installation where USA troops are stationed near the northern city of Mosul - according to local sources.

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