Gunmen shot dead two protesters in Iraq’s Nassiriya overnight and a Baghdad district became a battlefield on the third day of a drive by security forces to demonstrations against the largely Iran-backed ruling elite.
Clashes over the weekend killed at least five protesters. Rockets hit the US embassy compound in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone housing government buildings.
Ambassadors of 16 countries in Baghdad including the US, France and Britain condemned the use of live fire by Iraqi security forces and called for a credible investigation into the deaths of more than 500 protesters since October.
Security sources said three people were wounded when a rocket landed in the US embassy compound, the first time in years an attack on the Green Zone hurt staff.
The Iraqi military said five Katyusha rockets hit the Green Zone on Sunday, without reporting casualties.
In a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed outrage at continued assaults by Iran’s armed groups targeting US facilities in Iraq, including Sunday’s attack, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
She said Sunday’s rocket attack resulted in one injury. “The Secretary underlined again these attacks demonstrate wanton disregard for Iraqi sovereignty and failure to rein in dangerous armed groups,” Ortagus said in a statement.
“The Secretary noted we view last night’s attack on the Embassy as an attempt to distract Iraqi and international attention from the brutal suppression of peaceful Iraqi protesters by Iran and its proxies,” she said.
Authorities began the pushback on Saturday to end protests that began on October 1 and in other southern cities. Demonstrators demand the removal of all politicians, free elections and an end to corruption.
In Nassiriya, at least 75 protesters were wounded, many by live bullets, in overnight clashes when security forces tried to move them from bridges, police and health sources said.
Unknown gunmen in pickup trucks attacked the main protest camp there, shooting dead two people and setting fire to demonstrators’ tents before fleeing, sources said.
Some protesters began building permanent structures using bricks, Reuters witnesses said, while others broke into a police building and set fire to five police vehicles parked inside.
The leaderless movement is an unprecedented challenge to Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-dominated and largely Iran-backed ruling elite, which emerged after a US-led invasion toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Pitched battles raged in the Khilani area of central Baghdad near Tahrir Square, on Monday with protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces using tear gas, live rounds and slingshots to push them back.
Some demonstrators danced on the protest frontline while others shielded themselves behind concrete blocks and trees or by using metal sheets.
“This revolution is peaceful. They use various kinds of fire against us, live ammunition, bullets and teargas canisters. I got injured in my face,” said Allawi, a hooded protester who gave only his first name.
Tuk-tuks darted through the crowd to help the wounded and carry away protesters suffering from teargas inhalation.
Demonstrations continued in other southern cities, despite repeated attempts by security forces to clear up.
Nearly 500 people have died in the unrest, with security forces and unidentified gunmen shooting people dead. After a lull earlier this month, demonstrations resumed; protesters control three key bridges in Baghdad and maintain camps and road blocks in several cities in the south.
Government responded with violence and piecemeal reform. The international community condemned the violence but has not intervened.
Saturday’s push by the authorities began after populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said he would halt involvement of his supporters in demonstrations.
Sadr backed demands of protesters for the removal of corrupt politicians and provision of services and jobs soon after the demonstrations started, but stopped short of calling on all his followers to join.
“Everyone has come out protesting against government,” said Hussain, a protester. “We demand all politicians resign and get out. We don’t want Moqtada or any of them.”