Iraqi protesters regroup as crackdown death toll tops 50
At least 50 people were killed and hundreds wounded across the south on Thursday, according to medical sources, a day after the torching of Iran's consulate in the Shia holy city of Najaf.
At least 16 of them died in Najaf, where on Friday a massive funeral procession wound its way through the streets of the holy city, carrying coffins.
Local sources in the city told The New Arab that security forces and militia members, some of them wearing traditional Arab clothing, had spread out throughout the city and used live fire against protesters.
The militia members wearing traditional clothes are believed to be from the Ashoura Brigades, one of the component groups of the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) militia coalition.
However, security forces have been unable to impose a curfew in Najaf or to prevent people from continuing protests. Many protesters camped overnight in the streets and squares of the city.
Further south in Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar province, demonstrators rallied in one of the main squares calling for the "fall of the regime", a day after 32 people were killed and 230 injured in a brutal crackdown on protests by security forces.
Medical sources in the city told The New Arab that hospitals were unable to treat all the wounded protesters in the city because medical supplies were running out. Security forces used military-grade tear gas grenades on the protesters, which can inflict deadly injuries.
Protesters vowed to remain in the streets until what they called the "criminal government" of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi resigned. They called for the immediate arrest of the officials and officers who had ordered security forces to open fire on the demonstrations.
In the city of Diwaniyah, protesters tried to reach the home of General Jamil Al-Shammari, the head of the "crisis management cell" of Dhi Qar province, who is accused of giving orders to kill protesters in Nasiriyah.
However, they were stopped from reaching the general's house by security forces who shot at them.
Two other protesters were killed in the capital, Baghdad.
Baghdad and the south have been rocked by the worst street unrest since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, with a protest movement venting fury at the government and its backers in neighbouring Iran.
Thursday's violence brought the total death toll since the start of October to nearly 400, with more than 15,000 wounded, according to an AFP tally.
The escalation came after crowds outraged at Iran's political influence in Iraq stormed and burned down the Iranian consulate in Najaf, blaming it for propping up Adel Abdel Mahdi's government.
In response, Adel Abdel Mahdi ordered military chiefs to deploy in several provinces to "impose security and restore order".
Protesters are seeking an overhaul of the ruling elite, in a country with staggering levels of corruption and high rates of poverty and unemployment, especially among the youth.
Agencies contributed to this report