Fresh Clashes Erupt in Baghdad Despite Sistani's Call for Calm

Iraqi protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks gather for an anti-government demonstration in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Wednesday.—AFP

Anti-government protesters in Iraq stormed a fourth bridge on Wednesday in central Baghdad, where security forces pushed them back with batons and tear gas, wounding dozens, and a medic was killed near another bridge while aiding demonstrators.

"Abdul Mahdi's position means more to him than the blood of Iraqis", said a tribal dignitary who was protesting in Baghdad on Friday.

The country is beginning to feel the fiscal pinch of weeks of the unrest, which started in Baghdad and quickly spread to southern cities.

Also on Friday, protester Amir Shami said security forces tore down tents at an protest sit-in in the holy city of Karbala.

Four people were killed as security forces opened fire at the protesters to disperse the demonstration, Reuters said, citing Baghdad police sources.

That pushed the death toll since the first protests erupted on October 1 closer to 300, according to a tally compiled by AFP as officials have stopped providing updated figures.

Iraq has held regular elections since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein following the US -led invasion of 2003, but they have been dominated by Shiite Islamist parties that have failed to deliver on promises to improve daily life.

Public anger erupted last month over widespread corruption and lack of jobs, then escalated into calls for the entire ruling system to be overturned.

Doctors at hospitals have shown Reuters scans of tear gas canisters embedded in the skulls of dead protesters.

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Six protesters were killed by masked gunmen in the oil-rich city of Basra on Thursday.

Abdel Mahdi came to power in October 2018 pledging to tackle those issues but now stands accused of overseeing the bloody crackdown of protests.

"Given Iraq's history of civil unrest and global training not only for military operations but also for crowd control, Iraqi authorities should not get a free pass for misusing teargas as a lethal weapon instead of a crowd dispersal method", Whitson said in the press release.

Government handouts for the poor, promises to prosecute corrupt officials and create more job opportunities for graduates have failed to placate protesters, whose demands include a new electoral system and the removal of all current political leaders.

Protesters have also rejected foreign interference in Iraq, which is caught between its two main allies and rivals, the United States and Iran. The shooting also wounded around 120, said medical officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Sinak bridge over the River Tigris was demolished today. Gunfire was used against demonstrators in Basra, the main source of Iraq's oil wealth, who had staged a days-long sit-in.

Anti-government demonstrators had blocked roads at Umm Qasr commodities port, halting operations for more than a week.

"These trucks usually transport the oil daily, but have been unable to do so since Tuesday because of what's happening in Basra", the source said.

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