A view from the bridge: Iraq protesters under fire

BAGHDAD: Ali says he has seen more than 50 people killed in front of him since the anti-government protests began in Iraq last month.

The first was shocking: he was someone he knew and was shot in the chest, said Ali, in his 20s and Baghdad The Sadr City district of low income.

But you quickly get used to death ... I've seen people, some of them friends, drown, drown, skulls open and stun grenades, said Ali, who refused to give his last name. played a video of the mobile phone of the victim of the shooting in his last moments in the capital Tahrir Square last month.

We can't even cry for their bodies anymore.

Since the start of October, more than 250 Iraq is have been killed protesting against a government they see as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests, according to eyewitnesses and medical and security sources.

There were no immediate comments from the Interior Ministry, which oversees many of the security forces, but a government report said almost 150 people died in the first week of the riots, 70% of the bullets in the head or chest .

When telling stories of his fallen comrades, Ali leaned against a pile of dirty blankets on the bank of the Tigris River under the Jumhuriya Bridge, or Republic.

Over the past 10 days, hundreds of young men and boys, some as young as 12, have camped on the bridge and under it. Wearing construction hats, gas masks and singing for the fall of the government, they call themselves the first line of the revolution.

The bridge, which leads from the square to Baghdad 's fortified Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are located, has seen fierce clashes between protesters and security forces.

Protesters, armed with slings, have erected barricades of iron sheets and concrete blocks. Security forces have used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas against them, killing dozens on the adjacent Jumhuriya and Sinak bridges.

Both sides have settled in a restless stalemate.

We throw stones at them, and they respond by killing us, Ali said, while security forces launched several tear gas canisters.

BOYS

A group of medical volunteers has established a camp to help the injured. They say the expired tear gas (Reuters saw used cans with an expiration date of 2014) is causing people to drown.

A young man, barefoot and wearing a dirty shirt and pants, passed out after drowning in gas. A Reuters correspondent saw the doctors take him off the bridge and put him in a tuk tuk to a nearby hospital.

Ali is surrounded by a very close group of 10, who have been camping under the Jumhuriya Bridge since October 24.

Reminiscent of Peter Pan's Lost Boys, the group radiated an intensity forged by bloodshed. Many come from Baghdad 's poorest neighbourhoods, where they work as tuk-tuk drivers or day labourers.

Despite Iraq 's oil wealth, many live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education. Protesters blame corruption.

For 16 years we have been told that our lives would be better, said Abbas, who declined to give his last name.

But I'm 19 years old and I've worked most days since I was 10 years old and I still don't have more than 5,000 dinars ($ 4) in my pocket.

DANGEROUS NIGHTS

Abbas was arrested in the first wave of protests, along with Ali and other members of the group. They said their phones were scanned to identify other protesters. Released on bail, they were told to stay away from the demonstrations.

But the next day I went back to the protests, Ali said. We have to stay here to keep the revolution.

Almost everyone who spoke with Reuters had bandages on their arms, torsos and legs. They said that many of their injuries came from security forces firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, sometimes from boats in the river.

It's more dangerous at night, they said.

A few nights ago at 3 a.m., security forces threw gasoline at their camp, followed by burning rags, Ali said. The rags landed near a group of sleeping children, according to a video watched by Reuters.

The boys now stand guard.

"The second we leave this bridge, the government will storm Tahrir Square and finish off the protests," Ali said. "They can throw whatever they want at us. But we're not going anywhere."

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