Death toll rises as anti-government protests grip Iraq

Iraqi security forces fire live rounds and tear gas to disperse protesters near the Umm Qasr port and in Nasiriyah.

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    Protesters stand on a burnt-out Iraqi security forces military vehicle during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra [Essam al-Sudani/Reuters]
    Protesters stand on a burnt-out Iraqi security forces military vehicle during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra [Essam al-Sudani/Reuters]

    Baghdad, Iraq - Six people were killed and dozens wounded in Iraq's southern cities of Basra and Nasiriya as a result of clashes with security forces, according to the Iraqi human rights council.

    Meanwhile in Baghdad, street battles between security sources and protesters continued as demonstrators demanding basic services, employment opportunities, and an end to corruption gathered in Tahrir Square on Sunday. 

    "Three protesters were killed in violent clashes with security forces in Umm Qasr, south of Basra, and 78 others were injured. Meanwhile, three protesters were killed in Nasiriya and 71 people were injured," the council said in a statement.

    "We call on the government to act immediately to put an end to the excessive use of violence against protesters."

    At least 330 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations in decades. 

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    The death toll in Baghdad, Nasiriya, and Basra over the past 24 hours reached 12, according to security and medical sources. The deaths since Saturday were a result of security forces' use of live ammunition and tear gas against the protesters, the sources told Al Jazeera.

    Khaled al-Mahanna, a spokesman for the ministry of interior, said on Saturday night three protesters were killed in Baghdad alone over the past 24 hours. More than 100 others were injured, including 30 members of the security forces in clashes with protesters on Ahrar Bridge.

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    Following weeks of on-and-off closures, Iraqi security forces reopened the entrance to Umm Qasr port near Basra on Friday after protesters blocked it since Monday.

    Umm Qasr, which receives grain, oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food, was previously blocked twice in October and November with a brief resumption of operations between November 7-9. Official estimates put losses during the first week of the closure at $6bn.

    The protesters had gathered to demand the opening of the road around the port town blocked by security forces in an attempt to prevent demonstrators from reaching the entrance of the facility, Iraq's largest commodities port.

    Security forces also wounded at least 24 people in the Shia holy city of Karbala overnight after opening fire on demonstrators to prevent them from reaching the local government headquarters, medical and security sources said.

    Rights groups have previously described the situation in Iraq as a "bloodbath" and called on the government to rein in security forces.

    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.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News