More than 100 people have died during anti-government protests in Iraq which erupted on Tuesday, the country’s semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights has said.
Around 6,000 people have also been wounded while protesting in spontaneous rallies to demand jobs improvements to electricity, water, and other services and an end to corruption in the country, according to the parliamentary commission.
An Interior Ministry spokesman on Sunday provided similar figures regarding the death toll and injuries but denied the security forces had fired directly at the protesters. The spokesperson also added that dozens of buildings had been set ablaze.
Masked gunmen stormed the Baghdad offices of Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television station, injuring several employees and smashing their equipment.
The BBC reported that most young demonstrators were directly targeted by the Iraqi security forces, with 19 protesters being shot dead and more than three dozens being wounded.
In an attempt to curb the growing rallies government authorities imposed an Internet blackout on Wednesday and a round-the-clock curfew on Thursday.
The protesters had already ignored the curfew until it was officially lifted at 5 am on Saturday.
Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi’s office and Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi came together with protest representatives in a televised meeting in parliament to hear their demands. In the end, he repeated promises to address unemployment and poverty.
Governmental promises did not stop street violence. Friday became the deadliest day when 22 people were killed in the capital Baghdad.
On the same day, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric and the leader of the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament called on Mahdi’s government to resign and hold early elections, saying the shedding of Iraqis’ blood cannot be ignored.
More than a dozen people were killed and about 40 wounded in the capital on Saturday when the new demonstrations began in the capital. The security forces reportedly opened fire in the protests staged in various neighborhoods.
Iraqi political leaders called an emergency session of parliament on Saturday in a bid to discuss the demands of the demonstrators. However, the gathering lacked a quorum due to al-Sadr’s boycott.
In oil-rich Iraq, security has improved since the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) two years ago, but corruption is rampant and jobs are scarce.
The unrest which seems to be organized by various political groups marks the biggest security and political challenge for Mahdi’s government since it took power a year ago, reviving fears of a new spiral of violence that could suck in influential militia groups and be exploited by the ISIS.