At least five protesters were killed and more than 175 people injured on Friday in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, a Reuters witness and other sources said.
Among the fatalities, most died from bullet wounds, a hospital source said, adding that about 120 protesters were wounded. At least 57 members of the security forces were injured, according to a another hospital source and a security source.
The clashes continued on Friday evening after a week of violence that erupted on Sunday when security forces fired to disperse protesters, who were trying to storm the provincial government building using rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Protesters are demanding the removal of the governor and justice for protesters who killed since 2019.
Late on Friday Amnesty International said it “verified videos from Nassirya that contain clear audio of gunfire and show police firing weapons as well as dead protesters in the streets.”
Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights, said on twitter that five have been killed and 271 injured including 147 members of the security forces in the last five days.
“The situation is out of control in Nassiriya and the blood is shedding while the government is watching,” Bayati posted on twitter.
Iraq’s biggest anti-government protests in decades broke out in October 2019 and continued for months, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demanding jobs, services and removal of the ruling elite, whom they accused of corruption.
Nearly 500 people were killed, and the protests caused the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who took office in May 2020, has pledged justice for activists killed or abused by armed groups. But no prosecutions have occurred so far.
The clashes come just a week before Pope Francis visits Iraq from March 5 to 8. He is due to tour the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur, only a few kilometres (mile) away from the clashes.