Iraqi protester killed in overnight Baghdad clashes
At least one Iraqi protester was killed and dozens more wounded near the capital's Tahrir Square in the early hours of Saturday, medical sources said, amid clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters.
Baghdad's overnight violence was centred on two bridges linking Tahrir to the western bank of the Tigris, where most government buildings and foreign embassies including the US and Iranian missions are located.
Riot police deployed along the bridges fired tear gas to keep back protesters, who have dug in to their positions with their own barricade.
The protests have evolved since October 1 from rage over corruption and unemployment into a wholesale condemnation of political and religious class and demands for "the downfall of the regime".
Tens of thousands of Iraqis massed in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Friday in the biggest demonstrations since anti-government protests erupted a month ago.
The square and the wide boulevards leading into it were packed with flag-waving protesters, as security forces reinforced barricades on two bridges leading to the heavily-fortified Green Zone, the seat of government.
The protesters want sweeping change to the political system established after the 2003 US-led invasion, which they blame for widespread corruption, high unemployment and poor public services.
Protesters have occupied Tahrir square for more than a week, apparently unimpressed by the government's proposals, including of early elections and a new premier.
"We've been having elections for 16 years, and we've gotten nothing," said Haydar, 30, a protester in Tahrir.
Another activist, Mohammad, 22, said the demonstrators should not accept such "fake reforms".
"People are very aware of what's happening: we've gotten to an important phase and can't lose it all now," he added.
Since October 1, more than 250 people have been killed and thousands more wounded in the rallies.
The latest official toll was provided on Wednesday, but medical and security sources said at least eight demonstrators have been killed since.
Seven of them died around Tahrir, where clashes between riot police and security forces have escalated.
The eighth victim was killed by the security guards of a local politician in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
Rights group Amnesty International says security forces in Baghdad have fired military-grade tear gas grenades directly into the crowds, causing horrific wounds and occasionally lodging the projectiles in people's skulls. During an earlier wave of demonstrations, snipers shot protesters in the head and chest, with nearly 150 killed in less than a week.
The United States on Friday urged Iraq's government to listen to the "legitimate demands" of protesters who have been out on the street for a month and conduct a more credible probe into its crackdown.
"The government of Iraq should listen to the legitimate demands made by the Iraqi people who have taken to the streets to have their voices heard," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, urging all sides to refrain from violence.
"The government of Iraq's investigation into the violence in early October lacked sufficient credibility and the Iraqi people deserve genuine accountability and justice," he said in a statement.
The protesters are seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who maintains warm albeit complicated relations with the United States as well as its arch-rival Iran.
Pompeo's remarks came hours after Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who holds great sway over government decision-making, warned that no foreign actor should be allowed to "impose its will" in Iraq.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday urged protesters both in Iraq and Lebanon to pursue their demands through "legal frameworks."