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Violence is escalating in Iraq as the government seeks to end protests

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Gunmen shot dead two protesters in the southern city of Nasiriyah on Sunday night as a district of the capital Baghdad turned into a battlefield on Monday, the third day of a crackdown by security forces on ending months of demonstrations against Iran’s heavily backed ruling elite.

At least five protesters were killed in clashes early this week, and missiles also hit the US embassy complex in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, which also includes government headquarters.

Delegates from 16 countries in Iraq, including France, Britain and the United States, condemned on Monday the use of excessive force by security forces and armed groups and demanded a meaningful investigation into the deaths of more than 500 protesters since October.

“Despite government assurances, security forces and armed groups continue to use live ammunition in these places (Baghdad, Nasiriyah, and Basra), which leads to several deaths and civilian casualties, while some protesters face intimidation and kidnapping,” the delegates said in a joint statement.

Delegates called on Iraq to respect freedom of assembly and the right to peaceful protest, and appealed to the Baghdad government to “ensure credible investigations and accountability for the deaths of more than 500 and thousands of injured protesters since October 1”.

Security sources told Reuters that at least one missile landed inside the compound of the American embassy and wounded three people. It is the first time that employees have been hurt by an attack over years.

A military statement said five Katyusha rockets landed in the Green Zone late on Sunday, but there were no casualties. It was not immediately possible to obtain a comment from the US embassy.

On Saturday, the authorities began their campaign to end the protests that erupted on October 1 in Baghdad and several cities in the south of the country. The demonstrators are calling for the removal of all parties and politicians, the holding of free and fair elections and the eradication of corruption.

Police and medical sources said that at least 75 protesters were wounded, most of them by live bullets, in clashes in Nasiriyah on Sunday night when security forces tried to remove them from bridges in the city.

The sources pointed out that unknown armed men, on board four minivans, attacked the main protest camp, killed two people, and then set fire to the protesters’ tents before they fled.

Reuters witnesses said protesters in Nasiriyah also began building brick structures after unidentified gunmen burned their tents and that other protesters stormed a police station in Nasiriyah on Monday and set fire to at least five cars that were parked inside before they left.

These protests, which are not led by anyone, are an unprecedented challenge to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi elite, which is largely backed by Iran and which rose to power after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

– Revolution –

Fierce battles erupted on Monday in the Khilani area near Tahrir Square in central Baghdad, as protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the security forces, who fired tear gas and live bullets in the air, as they used darts, to push the protesters to retreat.

Some of the protesters danced on the front line, while others took refuge in concrete and metal walls and trees.

One of the masked protesters, Allawi, said, “This revolution is peaceful … They fire live ammunition, bullets and tear gas canisters. I was shot in the face. ”

Tuk-tuk vehicles scattered among the crowds transported the injured, including protesters who were suffering from shortness of breath due to tear gas.

Demonstrations continued on Monday in other cities in the south of the country despite repeated attempts by security forces to remove the tents of the sit-in.

About 500 people were killed in the disturbances by the security forces and unidentified gunmen.

After a lull early this month, demonstrations resumed in Baghdad and cities in the south, and protesters took control of three major bridges in the capital, as they continued to sit in and block roads in a number of southern cities.

The government responded with violence and announced some reforms. The international community condemned the violence, but did not intervene to stop it.

Security forces began operations to remove the sit-in tents after Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced on Saturday that he had ended supporters’ participation in the protests.

Al-Sadr, shortly after the outbreak of the demonstrations in October, endorsed protesters’ demands for the removal of corrupt politicians and the provision of services and jobs, but he did not invite all his followers to participate in the protests.

“Everyone went out to protest against the government … We demand the resignation and departure of politicians,” said Hussein, a protester. We don’t want Moqtada or any of them. ”

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