Six people have been killed by security forces and gunmen as anti-corruption protesters continued to occupy city squares across Iraq.
Iraqi security forces killed at least four protesters in Baghdad, police and medical sources told the Reuters news agency on Thursday.
Two were also killed overnight – an activist in Amarah in southern Iraq and a doctor who was shot in the chest after treating injured protesterson the Bab Muazzam bridge in Baghdad.
Another 35 people were wounded in clashes near the Shuada Bridge in Baghdad. Security forces have closed off six bridges across the Tigris River in Baghdad, leaving another six open.
Read more: Why are people protesting in Iraq?
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres expressed his “serious concern over the rising number of deaths and injuries during the ongoing demonstrations in Iraq”, adding that there should be “meaningful dialogue between the government and demonstrators”.
“Reports of the continued use of live ammunition against demonstrators are disturbing,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
The doctor who was killed was identified as Abbas Ali, one of the most well-known doctors in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, which has become a focal point for the protests. He had set up a tent in the square to treat protesters.
The activist in Amarah, Amjad Al-Dahamat, was killed as he left the main protest site in the Shabanah area of the city. Unknown gunmen shot him several times in the chest and head. At his funeral, mourners called for the fall of the Iraqi government and chanted anti-Iranian slogans.
Iran has a lot of influence on the Iraqi government and connected militias and the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, recently sparked outrage when he suggested that the protests were part of a “Zionist” plot.
Protests are still taking place across Iraq and thousands of people have occupied the main squares of cities such as Basra, Nasiriyah, Karbala, Najaf, Al-Hillah, and Amarah. Security forces have used machine guns and tear gas against protesters. Over 250 people have been killed and nearly 11,000 injured.
In the far south of the country, protesters have blockaded the entrance to Umm Qasr port, preventing lorries from transporting food imports. The Iraqi government estimates that disruption to the port’s functioning over the past week has cost over $6 billion.
In Basra, 35 protesters were reported to have been injured by tear gas on Thursday. Iraqi security forces are directly firing military-grade tear gas grenades at protesters, which can kill as well as injure.
Activists have shared gruesome images on social media showing tear gas grenades embedded in protesters’ skulls.
The protests have mostly taken place in Baghdad and Shia-majority southern Iraq but university students have been detained in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq and Anbar province in the west – both Sunni majority areas.
Students at Mosul and Anbar universities handed out leaflets calling for a strike in solidarity with protesters in southern Iraq.
Protests in Iraq began at the beginning of October, with the country suffering from high-level corruption, poor public services and an over 25 percent unemployment among the country’s youth.
On-in-five people live in poverty even though Iraq is OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer.
The protests are considered to be the biggest challenge to the government’s authority since the defeat of the Islamic State group in 2017.
Protesters have rejected government pledges of reform as being too little too late. They have demanded a complete overhaul of the political system, which has been criticized for its sectarian basis and dependence on patronage.