'Bloodbath': Witnesses describe brutal crackdown on protests in Iraq
Witnesses on Thursday described how a brutal crackdown by Iraqi security forces on protests in Nasiriyah left the streets "filled with blood".
Iraq's capital and south have been torn by the worst street unrest since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, as a protest movement has vented their fury at their government and its backers in neighbouring Iran.
At least 35 anti-government protesters have been killed by security forces in the past 24-hour period amid spiralling violence in the southern city of Nasiriyah and Najaf.
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International on Thursday that protesters had been demonstrating peacefully in areas around the Al-Nasr and Al-Zaitoon bridges when Iraqi SWAT and anti-riot forces turned up with a bulldozer to break down their barricade.
"They opened fire non-stop. They retook the bridge within five minutes… because they would not stop firing and people were running away," one eyewitness said.
"I saw at least five people die in front of me. Anyone who was shot and killed was left behind because the forces beat anyone they caught. I saw them beat people like they wanted to kill them. It was a catastrophe".
Local residents told the rights group that demonstrators had gathered near the bridges since last weekend, but the situation had been largely calm until Thursday.
"They were shooting straight at the protesters but also at the ground. People were being shot in their chest and necks. Most injuries are from the head, chest, neck… there is news that there were snipers," one witness who live-streamed the protests overnight said.
"It is like an execution, direct shooting at the head… We were responding to the injuries and the deaths, the street was filled with blood."
Amnesty International has urged Iraqi authorities to rein in security forces amid widespread reports of live fire against protesters in Nasiriyah.
"The scenes from Nasiriyah this morning more closely resemble a war zone than city streets and bridges. This brutal onslaught is just the latest in a long series of deadly events where Iraqi security forces meted out appalling violence against largely peaceful protesters," said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.
"With well over 300 protesters now dead across Iraq since 1 October, and thousands more injured or arrested, this bloodbath must stop now," she said.
The internet connectivity in Nasiriyah dropped significantly around 5:30am, NGO Netblocks said, coinciding with the violent crackdown.