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New Iraqi PM Orders Jailed Protesters Freed

Anti-government protesters burn tires in front of barriers set up by security forces to close the Jumhuriyah Bridge leading to the Green Zone government area, during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 10, 2020.

Iraqi courts have freed jailed anti-government protesters, carrying out one of the first major orders from the new prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Iraqis have the constitutional right to protest "provided that it is not accompanied by an act contrary to the law," the Supreme Judiciary Council said in a statement.

The new prime minister told reports after his first cabinet meeting Saturday night that demonstrators need to be protected and that only those involved in violence should stay locked up.

Al-Kadhimi also promoted Iraqi general Abdul Wahab al-Saadi to lead the country’s elite counterterrorism service. The general was deeply involved in the fight against Islamic State when former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi suddenly demoted him last year. It was one of the moves that set off popular protests across Iraq against perceived government corruption and incompetence in October.

Human rights groups say Iraqi security forces used live fire against the demonstrators, leaving as many as 600 dead before the mass protests faded because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite the new prime minister’s order to free jailed demonstrators, new protests erupted in Baghdad Sunday by those who call Ala-Kadhimi the choice of the political establishment and say nothing will truly change in Iraq.

Protesters burned tires on a bridge leading to the heavily-fortified Green Zone, where many Iraqi government offices and foreign embassies are headquartered.