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Troops fire live rounds killing protesters in the latest crackdown on nationwide demonstrations in Iraq

Iraqi police have fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters who are calling for the government to resign and to reform the sect-based political system.

According to the country’s authorities, three demonstrators were killed in Baghdad on Sunday night, as well as one death in the holy Shia city or Karbala. Two policemen were also killed when they were run over in Basra by a driver attempting to escape the violence.

At least another 14 protesters are believed to have been severely injured in Baghdad over the past week.

These protests are the latest in a series of demonstrations that have ebbed and flowed since October. However, there has been a fresh impetus behind the rallies since the United States killing of Qasem Soleimani – the former head of Iran’s Quds elite forces, who also coordinated many of Iraq’s Shia militias – last month.

Many in the Iraqi population fear that the death of Soleimani will be used as a pretext to crack down in the name of national solidarity.

Iraqi civilians have the right to protest, as protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a covenant that commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals – including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – and to which Iraq is a signatory.

Speaking to IOHR, Fadhil Fatthu, a 21 year old Iraqi photographer said:

“My friend was shot [by police] yesterday when he was protesting, demanding his rights from a corrupt government. He was shot in the throat and more than 10 people died last night just for protesting.”

Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the pro-Iran prime minister, has offered to resign but Fadhil explains that the atmosphere remains “tense” with protesters opposing the two replacements being suggested by the government.

Protesters have called for early elections under a new voting law, an independent prime minister to replace the outgoing premier and for all corrupt officials to be held accountable.

The recent crackdown by the authorities is just the latest example of flagrant human rights abuses directed at protesters.

Amnesty International reported in October that protesters were being fatally targeted with tear gas grenades.

In December Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who usually gives political issues a wide berth, was forced to break convention to condemn killings of anti-government protesters following a particularly deadly attack by masked gunmen in Baghdad that left over 20 dead.

As of December, more than 511 protesters and members of security forces have been killed and around 17,000 wounded since protests began, according to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.

Tensions remain high in light of a mass rally, organised by firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, demanding the ouster of US troops.

Sadr has called on his followers to take to the streets on Friday in a million man march.

Many of the people in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square are sceptical of Sadr’s motives, fearing he may attempt to hijack the popular protest movement for his own gain. Unconfirmed reports indicate that several protesters have been kidnapped as they attempted to leave protests.

“Sadr has nothing to do with us, we don’t want him, we don’t want his militia, he is a part of the problem,” Hozam Hunaidi, 24, told Al Jazeera.

Last night, three rockets were also launched into Baghdad’s fortified green zone, home to several government buildings as well as several foreign embassies but no injuries have been reported.

Two of the rockets landed near the US embassy and are the latest in a series of similar attacks suspected to be carried out by pro-Iran militias.

A BBC reporter said alarms were sounding in the US embassy complex and speakers were telling those inside to take shelter.

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