At least 13 protesters were killed and 150 were injured Sunday in Baghdad and the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriya during clashes between security forces and the protesters. Sunday was one of the “worst” days since protests began. Many of these deaths were due to the use of live ammunition and tear gas by security forces against demonstrators.
At least 342 people have been killed in protests in Iraq since the protest began in early October.
Several of killed protesters are reported to have died after they were shot in the face with tear gas canisters. Safaa al Saray, a 26-year-old protester, killed in the same way as Safaa was protesting against the lack of jobs, an end to corruption and better public services.
The anti-government protests began in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and spread to cities across the south of the country.
On Sunday, thousands came out across the country after activists called for a general strike.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, street battles between security sources and protesters continued as demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square on Sunday.
According to the Iraqi Human Rights Council, “three demonstrators were killed in violent clashes with security forces in Umm Qasr, south of Basra, and 78 others were injured. Three demonstrators died in Nasiriya and 71 people were injured. In Basra, seven people were killed in what one security official called “one of the worst” days of the protest movement.
In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, street battles between security sources and protesters continued.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khaled al-Mahanna said Saturday night that three demonstrators were killed in Baghdad alone and more than 100 people were injured, including 30 members of the security forces in clashes with demonstrators at Ahrar Bridge.
Human rights groups have previously described the situation in Iraq as a “bloodbath” and have called on the government to stop the security forces.
For their part, protesters are demanding the overthrow of the political elites that they consider corrupt and serving foreign powers, while many Iraqis suffer in poverty without work, medical care or education.
Iraqi protesters blocked Sunday the third bridge leading to Baghdad’s Green Zone and roads leading to oilfields and the main port in the country’s south, gaining more ground in the largest and deadliest anti-government demonstrations in decades.
Security forces used tear gas and stun bombs to stop protesters from crossing the Ahrar Bridge in central Baghdad, in part of a weeks-long attempt to disrupt traffic and get to the Green Zone where government ministries and embassies are located.
Additionally, hundreds of students gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the symbolic place of the protest movement.
“No politics, no parties, this is a student awakening!” read one banner carried by a young Iraqi.
For the second time since the start of anti-establishment demonstrations, protesters on last Monday blocked the entrance to the Umm Qasr, Iraq’s main Gulf port near Basra, preventing employees and tankers from entering and bringing operations down by 50 percent, two port sources said.
If the blockage continues, operations will come to a complete halt, the sources told Reuters.
“We students are here to help the other protesters, and we won’t retreat a single step,” said another teenager.
In the city of Hillah, south of Baghdad, students and other activists concentrated in front of the provincial headquarters.
“We’ll keep up our protest and general strike with all Iraqis until we force the government to resign,” said Hassaan al-Tufan, a lawyer and activist.
Sit-ins have become the main tactic for the protest rallies.
Iraqi security forces have been heavily criticized for their use of live rounds including machine-gun fire – and firing of heavy-duty tear gas canisters against mostly young and unarmed protesters, leading to “gruesome” deaths and injuries when canisters pierce protesters’ skulls or lungs.
The outgoing chief of NATO’s Iraq mission told AFP on Sunday the violence was “an absolute tragedy.”
“While the events of the last six weeks are an absolute tragedy, NATO continues to urge restraint to the government of Iraq,” said Major General Dany Fortin.
The government has proposed a list of reforms in recent weeks but demonstrators rejected them as insignificant and made too late in a country ranked the 12th most corrupt in the world by Transparency International.
“These steps, these reforms are just an opiate for the masses. Nothing more, nothing less,” one protester said on Sunday, pointing to the Green Zone, adding, “there are so many capable young people in Iraq who are deprived, and unfortunately those are the guys who rule us.”