At least 40 people have been killed in Iraq during a fresh wave of anti-government protests that have descended into violence. Two of the dead were reportedly hit by tear gas canisters fired by security forces in the capital Baghdad.
Reports say half of the victims were killed while trying to storm a militia group’s offices in two southern cities. Hundreds have been injured in nationwide protests that erupted on Friday.
Protesters are demanding more jobs, better public services and an end to corruption. Similar protests earlier this month were brutally put down by security forces, leaving nearly 150 people dead.
A government report has acknowledged that authorities used excessive force in quelling that unrest.
Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, used his weekly sermon on Friday to call for restraint.
A day earlier Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who took office a year ago on Friday, warned protesters that violence would not be tolerated. He has promised a cabinet reshuffle and a package of reforms to address protesters’ demands but many remain unconvinced, reported BBC
The government’s handling of the protests this month has fuelled discontent across Iraq, with political leaders facing calls to resign. Protesters have called on the Shia-led government to overhaul Iraq’s sectarian political system, in which power is shared along religious and ethnic lines.
“We’re not hungry, we want dignity,” shouted one marcher. Another said that Iraq’s politicians had “monopolised all the resources”.
The protests started in Baghdad on 1 October. Most of those taking part were young and unemployed.
After security forces used live ammunition against demonstrators, the unrest escalated and spread to other cities and towns.
A government committee that was tasked with investigating the violence said 149 civilians and eight security personnel had been killed in protests between 1 and 6 October. The committee concluded that “officers and commanders lost control over their forces during the protests” and that this “caused chaos”. (Source: BBC)