Iraqi forces shot three anti-government protesters dead in Nassiriya on Sunday, police and medics said, adding to scores killed in weeks of unrest that have shaken the war-weary country out of relative stability it enjoyed since the defeat of Islamic State.
Protesters gathered on a bridge in the city and security forces shot live ammunition to disperse them, sources said. More than 100 people were wounded in clashes in Nassiriya, they said.
Security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators in Baghdad injuring more than 20, a day after they pushed protests back to a main square in the Iraqi capital. A person died in hospital from wounds sustained the in the same area, police and medics said.
The violence shattered a day of relative calm. Unrest erupted in Baghdad on October 1 with protests over lack of jobs and services that spread across the capital and much of southern Iraq.
Security forces used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly young, unarmed protesters, killing more than 280 people, according to a Reuters tally based on medical and police sources.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government has taken some measures to quell unrest including handouts to the poor and job opportunities for college graduates, but failed to keep up with demands of demonstrators who now call for an overhaul of Iraq’s sectarian political system and the departure of its entire ruling elite.
“They’re (security forces) still shooting at people, wounded are coming in,” volunteer medical worker Hayder Ghareeb said at a makeshift clinic in Tahrir Square, now the main gathering point for demonstrators in Baghdad.
Some of those hurt choked on tear gas and were taken to hospital, medical sources said.
Police said a car exploded in an area under the control of security forces setting fire to other vehicles, with no casualties. Protesters fear saboteurs might use the unrest to carry out attacks, which risks drawing a harsher crackdown by security forces and government warned against violence against state property or personnel.
REFORMS GATHER PACE
Under pressure from powerful Shi’ite Muslim religious authorities, Abdul Mahdi pledged more serious changes including electoral reform and recognised the legitimacy of peaceful protest.
Iraqi leaders agreed at a meeting on Sunday imminent electoral reform should give a greater chance for youth to participate in politics and break a monopoly on power by political parties dominating state institutions since 2003, state media reported.
The unrest is one of the biggest and most complicated challenges to the current ruling elite since it took power after the US invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The current protests are free of sectarian rhetoric: directed by mostly Shi’ite protesters against a government dominated by Shi’ite politicians and allies of Iran.
Many Iraqis want serious political change but fear the consequences of prolonged instability as armed groups compete for power and the armed forces, with Western help, continue to battle Islamic State militants in northern parts of the country.
In northern Iraq near Kirkuk an explosive device detonated hitting a vehicle carrying Italian Special Forces, injuring five soldiers, the Italian military said.