Another Iraqi activist shot dead as unrest continues

Demonstrators ramp up pressure on government to reform political system but continue to face violence from security forces.

BASRA - Iraqi security forces gunned down another anti-government activist in the southern port city of Basra, said a police source on Wednesday, as rallies continue across the country due to a lack of government reforms.

Another five people are said to have been wounded in the shooting, including at least one other local activist.

The shooting comes amid the latest wave of violence against protests as tensions grow between Baghdad’s two main allies, Tehran and Washington.

"Civil society activist Janat Madhi, 49, was shot on Tuesday night around 11:00pm (2000 GMT) by armed men in an SUV," the police source said.

A source at the city's forensics lab confirmed that Madhi suffered gunshot wounds.

One reporter said she was part of an activist group giving medical care to demonstrators. The group departed the main protest camp in Basra late Tuesday, the reporter said, after which they were fired upon by unknown gunmen.

On Monday, three protesters were killed in clashes with security forces in Baghdad and another demonstrator died on Tuesday after a tear gas canister punctured his skull.

Rights groups accuse security forces of improperly using military-grade gas canisters -- which are up to 10 times heavier than those designed for use against civilians -- by firing them directly at crowds rather than into the air.

Demonstrators are outraged that only a handful of security force members have been charged with excessive violence and none of the perpetrators of hit-and-run attacks have been pursued, whereas protesters have been swiftly arrested for shutting down streets with burning tyres.

Blocking roads has become prevalent this week, with protesters cutting streets and national highways around Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south on Wednesday.

Resurgence of unrest

Protests began on October 1 when thousands of Iraqis, led by the youth, took to the streets to decry what they view as a profoundly corrupt political class. More than 460 protesters have died since then.

Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi resigned as a result of public pressure two months ago, but his successor is yet to be decided, and protesters are generally dismissive of the candidates that are being considered and are incensed that no drastic reforms have been implemented.

Demonstrators this week began ramping up pressure on authorities to implement their long-standing demands: early elections under a new voting law, an independent premier and accountability for protester deaths and corruption.

Numbers had dwindled for a while, but protests resumed with vigour last week as demonstrators sought to keep up momentum after attention turned to the threat of a US-Iran conflict following Washington's killing of Tehran's top general in an air strike inside Iraq.

The killing of Qassem Soleimani, to which Tehran responded with a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi military bases housing US troops, has highlighted the influence of some foreign powers in Iraq, especially Iran and the United States.