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Nine Iraqis killed by security forces as demonstrations continue

Iraqi authorities have faced heavy criticism from rights groups for resorting to live fire
Iraqi demonstrators next to the remains of an anti-riot vehicle during a demonstration in Basra on November 24 2019, as protesters cut off roads and activists call for a general strike (AFP)

At least nine people have been killed and dozens wounded after security forces opened fire on protesters in southern Iraq, police and medical sources said, as weeks of unrest across the country continued.

Security forces used live ammunition and tear-gas canisters against protesters who had gathered on three bridges in Nassiriya, northwest of Basra, killing three people, police and hospital sources said, with another person dying later from bullets wounds to his head.

Security forces used the same methods during clashes in the city, wounding at least 50 they added.

At least three people were killed, according to medical sources, after a protest near the country's main Gulf port of Umm Qasr, near Basra. More than 50 and up to 70 people were also wounded, when the protest was suppressed using live ammunition, according to police and medical sources.

Police and medical sources said that two protestors were killed during overnight demonstrations in the capital Baghdad.

Reuters News agency has put the death toll of those killed on Sunday and overnight as nine, though reports have varied.

So far at least 355 people have been killed since protesters took to the streets last month, demanding the toppling of what they see as a corrupt ruling class serving foreign interests, while many Iraqis live in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.

They are thought to be the biggest demonstrations since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Protests continued across the country on Sunday, with government offices set alight in Nassiriya. In Basra, hundreds of protesters burned tyres and blocked roads, preventing government employees from reaching their offices on the first day of the working week.

In the holy city of Karbala,  24 people were wounded after security forces opened fire on demonstrators headed for local government headquarters, medical and security forces said.

"They're throwing Molotov cocktails at us, and at midnight they started shooting live rounds," one demonstrator told AFP news agency.

Iraqi authorities have faced heavy criticism from rights groups for resorting to live fire, including the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, which earlier this month said that security forces who used live ammunition should be "referred to investigation".

A group of UN experts last month expressed their "utter dismay" at the use of "excessive force"  by Iraqi security forces.

"It is incomprehensible - and heartbreaking - that such a brutal response can be levelled against Iraqis simply wanting to express their rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly," the statement added.