BASRA (Reuters) – Security forces opened fire on protesters in southern Iraq, killing at least five people and wounding dozens others, police and medical sources said, as weeks of unrest in Baghdad and some southern cities continue.
Protesters had gathered overnight on three bridges in the city, and security forces used live ammunition and tear gas canisters to disperse them, killing three, police and hospital sources said.
More than 50 others were wounded, mainly by live bullets and tear gas canisters, in clashes in the city, they added.
Two more people were killed and over 70 wounded on Sunday after security forces used live fire to disperse protesters near the country’s main Gulf port of Umm Qasr near Basra, police and medical sources said.
Hospital sources said the cause of death was live fire, adding that some of the wounded are in critical condition.
The protesters had gathered to demand security forces open roads around the port town blocked by government forces in an attempt to prevent protesters from reaching the port’s entrance.
On Friday, Iraqi security forces dispersed by force protesters who had been blocking the entrance to the port and reopened it, port officials said.
Umm Qasr is Iraq’s largest commodities port and it receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
At least 330 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.
The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
Medical authorities evacuated infants and children from a hospital in central Nassiriya overnight after tear gas spread inside hospital courtyards, two hospital sources said.
Protests continued in Nassiriya on Sunday, with some government offices set on fire, sources said.
Elsewhere in southern Iraq, hundreds of protesters burned tires and blocked some roads on Sunday in Basra, preventing government employees from reaching offices, police said.
Iraqi security forces also wounded at least 24 people in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala overnight after opening fire on demonstrators to prevent them from reaching the local government headquarters, medical and security sources said.
Reporting by Aref Mohammed, Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Mark Potter and Emelia Sithole-Matarise
Image: A man puts an Iraqi flag on the coffin of a demonstrator who was killed at anti-government protests in Nassiriya, during the funeral in Najaf, Iraq November 24, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani