At least three people have been killed in Iraq’s anti-government protests after security forces fired live ammunition into a crowd of demonstrators, according to a human rights monitor.
Friday was the deadliest in five days of protests that have left a total of five protesters dead in the southern Nasiriya city, the semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights said.
“Another 47 people were wounded but the hospitals are all full of coronavirus patients. We’re struggling to find places to treat them,” a medic told AFP news agency.
Amnesty International said the wounded were treated in parking lots, adding that some were so afraid of being arrested if they went to hospitals that they were seeking help elsewhere.
A witness was quoted as saying by Amnesty that one protester was shot in the head.
“This must end now,” Amnesty wrote on Twitter. “The Iraqi government has failed time and time again to address the impunity with which protesters are being killed. When will the bloodshed end?”
The security forces were also injured as protesters retaliated for the use of live fire.
The demonstrators demand the dismissal of Governor Nazem al-Waeli over a deterioration in public services.
Nasiriya has seen regular protests since late 2019, even after Iraq’s mass anti-government movement waned.
The movement brought tens of thousands of Iraqis, mostly youth, to the streets of the capital, Baghdad, and across the south to decry government corruption and unemployment.
Ali Akram al-Bayati, spokesman for the human rights commission, said protests in Nasiriya never really came to a halt.
“It never stopped, this is because the city has been neglected without the new government achieving any of the promises it made,” he said.
Nearly 600 people have been killed in protest-related violence in Iraq since late 2019, including in mass violence at demonstrations but also in targeted assassinations.
One of the bloodiest incidents was in November 2019 in Nasiriya, when more than three dozen demonstrators were killed at the city’s Zeitun Bridge.
The incident sparked outrage across Iraq and prompted the resignation of then-Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi who was replaced by Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
The clashes come just a week before Pope Francis visits Iraq from March 5. He is due to tour the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur, a short distance from where the protests took place.