The latest round of demonstrations has been notably violent, with 63 people killed and more than 2,000 wounded over just two days, according to the Iraqi Human Rights Commission.

A demonstrator wears a mask to protect himself from tear gas during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad, Iraq, October 26, 2019
A demonstrator wears a mask to protect himself from tear gas during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad, Iraq, October 26, 2019 (Reuters)

More than 60 people have died in renewed anti-government protests across Iraq, officials said Saturday, with clashes breaking out as demonstrators turned their fury against government and paramilitary offices.

The death toll from protests this month has soared to 220, including dozens killed since Friday as they torched government buildings or offices belonging to factions of the Hashed al Shaabi paramilitary force.

The demonstrations first erupted on October 1, with protesters railing against government corruption and unemployment, while a second wave broke out late Thursday.

The latest round of demonstrations has been notably violent, with 63 people killed and more than 2,000 wounded over just two days, according to the Iraqi Human Rights Commission.

Three protesters were killed in the capital Baghdad on Saturday, with medics and officials reporting trauma wounds sustained by tear gas canisters lobbed at demonstrators.

But the majority of victims have been in the country's Shiite-majority south, where protesters torched dozens of provincial government buildings, party offices and Hashed centres.

On Saturday, three people were shot dead while setting fire to a local official's home in the southern province of Dhi Qar, a police source told AFP.

The previous night, 12 protesters died in Diwaniyah while setting fire to the headquarters of the powerful Badr organisation.

Top Hashed commanders have threatened "revenge" after their offices were attacked, and denounced those they said aimed at sowing "discord and chaos" in the country.

In a bid to contain the violence, security forces announced curfews across most of Iraq's southern provinces – but brief protests still took place in Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Babylon and Najaf.

In the southern port city of Basra, however, protesters failed to come out in large numbers after security forces strictly enforced a curfew.

Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (Hashid Shaabi) are seen at a march during the funeral of members of Shia group Asaib Ahl al Haq, who were killed when protesters attacked the group's office during anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq, October 26, 2019
Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (Hashid Shaabi) are seen at a march during the funeral of members of Shia group Asaib Ahl al Haq, who were killed when protesters attacked the group's office during anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq, October 26, 2019 (Reuters)

Protests return after lull

The latest eruption of anti-government anger followed a nearly three-week hiatus to leaderless, spontaneous revolts which were violently quelled earlier this month in the war-torn country.

The Interior Ministry and the Iraqi military issued statements Saturday saying some protesters have exploited the rallies and attacked government buildings and political party offices.

The ministry said some of its members were killed as police engaged with the violent protesters but did not give a number. The military warned that it will take necessary measures under the law to deal with those it called saboteurs.

Iraqi police had fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live shots on Friday to break up protesters who had gathered at Tahrir Square and later tried to cross a major bridge leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the US Embassy and Iraqi government offices.

In the southern town of Diwaniyah, the torched building belonged to a powerful militia, according to a senior official said. Iraqi TV said 12 charred bodies were removed from inside the building Saturday.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters, including young men, gathered again in Tahrir Square and on the Jumhuriyya Bridge in Baghdad on Saturday, as heavy security forces deployed around the Iraqi capital.

Police also erected blast walls leading to the square. Young women appeared among the crowd for the first time, some handing out water to the protesters.

By the afternoon, men tried to remove the blast walls, prompting the security to fire tear gas pushing them back.

A woman holds a sign reading
A woman holds a sign reading "We will not be humiliated by the misery of your oppression" during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad, Iraq, October 26, 2019 (Reuters)

Jobs, better services

The rallies have mainly been by young, unemployed men who are protesting against the government and demanding jobs and better services. The rallies are a continuation of the economically-driven demonstrations that began in early October and turned deadly as security forces cracked down, using live ammunition.

A security official said protesters torched the offices of at least three militias in the southern province of Maysan. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Some protesters had set up tents in Tahrir Square. Mukhaled Fares, 19, sat on the ground barefoot, carrying a backpack with the Iraqi flag over it.

He said his family has migrated to Germany while he refused to leave Iraq.

"I want change. I want to remove those corrupt people who sleep in the Green Zone and who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at us," Fares said.

A widow who identified herself as Um Layth, or the mother or Layth, said she had asked her son and daughter to stay home because she feared for their safety. But the 60-year old from outside of Baghdad said she came to protest, wanting a better future for her children. Her husband had died in Iraq's eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s.

"I am not afraid if I die, but I want a better future for my children," she said.

"If these parties and this government stay, they will have no future."

Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Iran has had close ties with the Iraq government and backs many of the country's powerful militias.

"Iraq is free. Iran out, out," some protesters at Tahrir Square, a popular chant against Tehran's tight grip on the country.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies