At least seven anti-government demonstrators were killed in Iraq Sunday amid ongoing clashes between protesters and security forces that have left more than 100 dead and thousands wounded.
Iraq’s government has scrambled to contain the anger that has gripped Baghdad and other southern cities since Tuesday.
Security forces have responded by cracking down on rallies of demonstrators demanding jobs, better services and an end to corruption.
Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan on Sunday said 104 people had been killed in the six days of unrest, including eight members of the security forces, and more than 6,000 wounded.
The unrest has been seen as the most serious challenge facing Iraq two years after its victories against Islamic State militants. The chaos also has come at a critical time for the government, which has been caught in the middle of increasing tensions in the region between the U.S. and Iran.
Maan said protesters have burned 51 public buildings and eight political party headquarters. He claimed security forces didn’t confront the protesters, adding that “malicious hands” were behind targeting protesters and security members alike.
But, his account contradicted statements from demonstrators and journalists at the scene who said they witnessed security forces firing on demonstrators.
Late Saturday, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi announced measures designed to appease the protesters, including paying out unemployment benefits and providing subsidized housing and land for low-income groups.
“I am ready to go wherever our brotherly protesters are and meet them or send them envoys to other locations without any armed forces,” he said. “I will go and meet them without weapons and sit with them for hours to listen to their demands.”
Still, demonstrators took to the streets again Sunday — although in smaller numbers. Hundreds gathered on side streets near Sadr City, a Baghdad suburb some 2.5 miles from Tahrir Square, which has been the destination of the weeklong rallies.
A medical official in a hospital and a security official said seven protesters were killed and 17 others wounded as they tried to break through a security cordon to head to the city center.
Security forces have beefed up their presence in central Baghdad, deploying as far as Sadr City to seal off Tahrir Square.
Army troops blocked a main road Sunday to prevent the protesters from advancing. Soldiers fired toward the protesters to push them back. After about an hour, more intense gunfire was reported, with soldiers firing over the heads of protesters as they tried to advance.
As the gunfire continued, protesters set tires on fire. Some demonstrators arrived in rickshaws which have been used to carry the wounded from the bloody clashes.
The U.N. envoy for Iraq appealed for an end to the violence and called for holding to account those responsible. “This must stop. I call on all parties to pause and reflect,” Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert tweeted Saturday.
Earlier Sunday, Baghdad’s streets had been mostly quiet and traffic thin while students made it to schools and government employees returned to work. But, burned tires and debris littered thoroughfares while security remained heavily deployed in neighborhoods.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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