Unidentified gunmen allegedly shot dead two protesters in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya after security forces began a crackdown on demonstrations against the country’s largely Iran-backed ruling elite.
At least 75 protesters were wounded in clashes in Nassiriya overnight when security forces attempted to move them away from bridges in the city, police and health source said. On Monday, clashes resumed in central Baghdad as police fired tear gas at demonstrators.
Security officials said the two protesters in Nassiriya were killed late on Sunday by unknown gunmen in four pick-up trucks who attacked the protest camp and set fire to demonstrators’ tents before fleeing the scene.
Anti-government protests erupted in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and quickly turned violent. Security forces and unidentified gunmen have shot protesters dead. Nearly 500 people have been killed in the unrest.
The protests are an unprecedented leaderless challenge to Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-dominated elite, which emerged after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Demonstrators are demanding that all parties and politicians be removed, free and fair elections be held and corruption rooted out. The government has responded with violence and piecemeal reform. The international community has condemned the violence but not intervened to stop it.
Operations by security forces to remove the protest camps started after populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Saturday he would halt the involvement of his supporters.
Moqtada al-Sadr had backed the demands of protesters for the removal of corrupt politicians and for the provision of services and jobs soon after the demonstrations began in October, but stopped short of calling all his followers to join in.
Demonstrations continued in Baghdad where security forces used tear gas against protesters in central Baghdad. Protests also continued in many southern cities on Monday, resisting repeated attempts by security forces to end their protests.