Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 13 protesters and wounded another 22 in the southern city of Nasiriyah early Thursday, in the latest bloody crackdown against nearly two months of anti-government protests.
Security forces fired on protesters blocking two bridges in Nasiriyah before dawn, just days after protesters set fire to two government buildings and the home of a lawmaker in the city.
The violence in Nasiriyah came a day after protesters in the Shiite holy city of Najaf torched the Iranian consulate in anger at Tehran’s political and military meddling in its neighbor. At least one protester was killed and 35 injured when security forces opened fire to prevent them from entering the building.
The Iraqi military said Thursday joint military-civilian “crisis cells” have been established to “impose security and restore order” in the predominately Shiite southern provinces. It said military commanders have been appointed to direct and control security and assist governors.
The capital Baghdad and southern Iraq have been gripped by the largest grassroots protests against the entire political class and rampant corruption since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
More than 350 people have been killed and thousands wounded in demonstrations that have crossed the country’s sectarian lines.
The demonstrations are the biggest threat to the Shiite-dominated ruling class in the post-Saddam era. Protesters are mostly unemployed and disenfranchise Shiite youth seeking the departure of those claiming to represent them.