Dozens of Iraqi protesters killed as army deploys south

Baghdad, Iraq – Iraqi security forces on Thursday shot dead at least 44 people in the country’s south in one of the bloodiest day of violence since the anti-government protests erupted in early October.

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At least 33 protesters were reported killed in Nasiriya city after security forces used live ammunition and tear gas canisters on crowds while another 11 people were killed in Shia holy city of Najaf, where an Iranian consulate was torched a day earlier by angry protesters.

The Iraqi goverment fired Lieutenant-General Jamil al-Shammari, who was appointed a day earlier to manage the unrest in Dhi Qar province, of which Nasiriya is the capital, following the deadly violence.

Amid escalating protests in the country’s south, authorities in the capital, Baghdad, dispatched troops to “restore order” there, which has seen massive protests for weeks.

‘Force won’t scare us’
Hussein, a 32-year-old lawyer from Nasiriya who was at the protest site, blamed security forces for what he called a “bloodbath”.

“We had blocked off the roads and bridges over the past four days and security forces moved in on us to try to open up the bridges. They opened fire leading to a bloodbath,” he told.

“What’s happening in Nasiriya is unbelievable. Nothing justifies this use of violence against us. We, the people, are extremely angry. Our blood is boiling. Our brothers were killed unjustifiably.

“But this use of force won’t scare us. More of us have gone out to the streets to either demand justice for those who have been killed or keep the bridges under our control.”

Khalifa, a 30-year-old protester, said most demonstrators in Nasiriya lost a brother or a friend during the bloody events on Thursday.

“The pain is deep and that only makes us more adamant to protest,” he said. “We will stay in the streets until our demands our met – no matter what level of force is used against us.”

The governor of Dhi Qar earlier called on Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi to withdraw military commanders sent to Nasiriya, capital city of the province, accusing them of responsibility for the deadly violence.

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