Iraqi security forces opened fire on thousands of demonstrators who defied a curfew in Baghdad on Thursday and exchanged fire with gunmen in a southern city, killing two people on the third day of nationwide anti-government protests, Reuters reports.
The protests, in which at least 20 have now been killed and over 600 wounded, began over unemployment and poor services but have escalated into calls for a change of government and pose one of the worst security challenges in years.
They appear to be independent of any political party and seemingly took the security forces by surprise.
“The bullets do not scare us. They do not scare Iraqis. This will all come down over their heads,” said one protester in the capital.
At least 4,000 protesters gathered in Baghdad’s Tayaran Square and attempted to march onto the central Tahrir Square only to be met with open fire and heavy tear gas.
Police used live ammunition in the Zaafaraniya district of Baghdad, where a protester was shot dead, and there were protests in the northwestern Shula district.
Police said protesters had fired at them in the town of Rifaen near the southern city of Nassiriya where seven people were killed overnight and one more was killed on Thursday. Fifty people were wounded in Rifae, including five police, they said.
Four people were killed in clashes overnight in another southern city, Amara.
Amnesty International called on the government to rein in the security forces and investigate the killings.
“It is outrageous that Iraqi security forces time and again deal with protesters with such brutality using lethal and unnecessary force. It is crucial that the authorities ensure a fully independent and impartial investigation,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
The United Nations urged the government to “exercise maximum restraint” and allow peaceful protests.