Six Iraqis killed, scores wounded as unrest resumes

Three protesters succumb to their wounds at Baghdad hospital after police fire live rounds in Tayaran Square, fourth person shot in Kerbala.

BAGHDAD - Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at protests in Baghdad and other cities on Monday where six people, including two police officers, have been killed after an uptick in anti-government protests.

Three protesters succumbed to their wounds at a Baghdad hospital after police fired live rounds in Tayaran Square, the sources said. Two protesters were shot by live bullets while a third was hit by a tear gas canister, they said.

A fourth demonstrator was shot dead by police in the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala, the sources added.

Protesters threw petrol bombs and stones at police who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, witnesses said.

"They (security forces) should stop shooting and aiming, who are they and who are we? Both sides are Iraqis. So why are you killing your brothers?" said one woman protester in Baghdad.

Three Katyusha rockets fell inside the capital's heavily fortified Green Zone which houses government buildings and foreign missions, police sources said. The rockets were launched from Zafaraniyah district outside Baghdad, the sources said, adding that two rockets landed near the US embassy.

In the Iraqi oil city of Basra, two policemen were struck and killed by a civilian car during a protest, security sources said. The driver was trying to avoid the scene of clashes between protesters and security forces when he drove into the two officers, they said.

Elsewhere in southern Iraq, hundreds of protesters burned tyres and blocked main roads in several cities, including Nassiriya, Kerbala and Amara. They say Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has not fulfilled promises including naming a new government acceptable to Iraqis.

Baghdad police said its forces had reopened all roads that were closed by "violent gatherings". It said 14 officers were wounded near Tahrir square, including some with head wounds and broken bones.

Traffic was disrupted on a highway linking Baghdad to southern cities, a witness said. Production in southern oilfields was unaffected by the unrest, oil officials said.

No reforms

The 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.

Since the uprising, 450 people have been killed, with rights groups accusing security forces of using excessive force.

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 last week warned the government that they had a week to act on demands, which include holding snap elections, appointing a new independent prime minister and for corrupt officials to face justice.

The UN envoy to Iraq urged Baghdad to resume pushing for reforms and for protests to remain peaceful.

"Any steps taken so far to address the people's concerns will remain hollow if they are not completed," said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert in a statement issued by the UN. "Violent suppression of peaceful protesters is intolerable and must be avoided at all costs.”

Numbers had dwindled but protests resumed 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.