Middle East

Upsurge in Iraqi violence despite Baghdad curfew

There has been an upsurge of violence in Iraq as anti-government protests enter a fifth day, amid reports of bloodshed in the holy city of Karbala.

Reports say up to 18 people were shot dead by security forces there. However, local officials denied anyone was killed.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters, including many students, have defied a curfew in the capital Baghdad.

They are angry about corruption, unemployment and poor public services.

More than 220 have died across the country since the demonstrations, which have been evolving into calls for government change, broke out at the beginning of the month.

What happened in Karbala?

In Karbala – a major centre for Shia Islam – the situation remains unclear, but a number of medical sources and eyewitnesses, backed up by video footage, suggest at least 18 people were killed and hundreds wounded in clashes with the security forces.

Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said they were trying to get more information about the situation.

“We have received particularly disturbing reports on what has been going on in Karbala… In both those reports [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (Unami) and an Iraqi government committee], they recognise that excessive force has been used.”

He called on local authorities in the city to ensure security forces acted with restraint and investigate the shootings.

The local governor and the police chief in Karbala have denied any protesters were killed, saying that videos circulating widely that show protesters running away from gunfire have been fabricated.

What about Baghdad?

Thousands of demonstrators vowed to continue their protests in the city, filling up the Iraqi capital’s central Tahrir Square on Tuesday.

At least 74 people were killed and 3,500 others were injured over the weekend as the protests resumed in Baghdad and elsewhere following a two-week pause that organisers said was designed to give Iraq’s leaders time to respond to their demands.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has promised to introduce reforms. But the protesters remain determined to try to sweep away his government.

On Monday, security forces fired tear gas to deter any attempting to cross a bridge to the fortified Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies.

After the first wave of protests earlier this month, the prime minister promised to carry out a cabinet reshuffle and cut the salaries of high-ranking officials. He also said he would allocate $66m ($51m) to support the unemployed, set up training programmes for youths, and build 100,000 homes in poor areas.

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