Iraqi security forces killed at least five people when they opened fire on protesters in Baghdad on Monday, a Reuters witness said, as thousands took part in the largest wave of anti-government protests for decades.
Demonstrations also took place in several other locations, including the main Gulf port Umm Qasr and southern Shatra, where security forces also killed a protester.
In Baghdad, a Reuters cameraman saw one man shot dead, his body carried away by fellow protesters, when security forces opened fire with live rounds on demonstrators near the Ahrar Bridge. He also saw at least four others killed.
Security and medical sources put the toll at four killed and 34 wounded, but could only confirm one death was from live fire. Two were a result of rubber bullets and tear gas, giving no reason for the fourth death.
The sources also said two people were killed, including a police officer, when special forces tasked with protecting the heavily fortified Green Zone opened live fire on protesters. At least 22 people were wounded.
A spokesman for the prime minister said a group of protesters had crossed the bridge and set fire to a restaurant, and that law enforcement “dealt” with them. He did not elaborate.
Separately, at least one protester was killed and 10 wounded after police used live fire and tear gas against them in the town of Shatra, 45 km (28 miles) north of the southern city of Nassiriya, security and medical sources said.
More than 250 Iraqis have been killed in demonstrations since the start of October against a government they see as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
Monday’s deaths were in addition to three protesters killed late on Sunday when security forces opened fire on a crowd trying to storm the Iranian consulate in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala, security and medical sources said.
Protesters defied the prime minister’s earlier plea to end the demonstrations which he says are costing Iraq’s economy billions of dollars and disrupting daily life.
The protests have broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq since they started on Oct.1. More than 250 people have been killed.
Despite the country’s oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
“The youth have lived through economic hardships, explosions, oppression. We want to root out this political elite completely. We want to get rid of this gang, then maybe we can rest,” said a protester, said a protester, who did not wish to be identified, who had camped overnight in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi appealed to protesters on Sunday night to suspend their movement which he said had achieved its goals and was hurting the economy.
The premier has said he is willing to resign if politicians agree on a replacement and promised a number of reforms, but protesters say that is not enough and that the entire political class needs to go.
Operations at Iraq’s main Gulf port of Umm Qasr, which receives the bulk of the country’s grain, vegetable oil and sugar imports, have been at a complete standstill since Wednesday.
The anger over economic hardship and corruption is aimed at the sectarian power-sharing system of governance introduced in Iraq after 2003 and the political elites benefiting from it.
Hundreds of protesters gathered overnight in front of the Iranian consulate in the Shia holy city of Kerbala and tried to set it on fire. Security forces dispersed them using tear gas and live ammunition, security and medical sources said.
Three people were killed and at least 10 people were wounded, including four from gunshots.