Security forces opened fire directly at hundreds of anti-government demonstrators in central Baghdad, killing at least 17 protesters and injuring dozens, hours after Iraq’s top Shiite cleric warned both sides to end four days of violence “before it’s too late.”
According to AP report, the latest deaths raised the number of people killed in clashes during ongoing protests to 59 and marked a sharp escalation in the use of force against unarmed protesters. A recent rights commission report has stated that the death toll has risen to 73.
But neither the government nor demonstrators appear to be willing to back down from unrest that has presented the most serious challenge for Iraq since the defeat of the Islamic State group two years ago.
Spontaneous rallies, which began Tuesday, started as mostly young demonstrators took to the streets demanding jobs, improved services like electricity and water, and an end to corruption in the oil-rich country.
In a desperate attempt to curb massive rallies, authorities blocked the internet and imposed an around-the-clock curfew in the capital.
But the protesters, many of whom camped on the streets Thursday night, gathered before noon near Tahrir in defiance of the curfew.
Following Friday prayers around sunset, the number of protesters grew to more than 1,000 and forces opened fire in side streets to prevent more people from reaching the square, which was sealed off.
Security forces hit two people directly in the head and killed them, according to witnesses as well as security and hospital officials.