Deadly clashes reignite in Iraq despite cleric's call for calm

Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi came to power last year pledging to tackle both corruption and unemployment

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Saturday that while protests were important in bringing about political reform, life in the country must now be allowed to return to normal.

Three protesters were killed and dozens wounded in the southern city of Basra, medical sources said, as security forces cleared a protest camp outside the provincial government headquarters.

Northern Iraq has been largely untouched by the political turbulence in Baghdad and the south.

They retook the Al-Sinek, Al-Shuhada and Al-Ahrar bridges that link the east bank, where the main protest camps are located, with west bank districts which are home to government offices and foreign embassies. Protesters have tried to force their way across on an nearly daily basis.

"Even if the bridges and most of the roads are closed, people are driving all the way around from far-away areas to reach Tahrir", one protester said proudly.

"But we put up more barricades so they won't enter Tahrir".

Khazaali and Ameri are leading commanders in the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network, which has publicly backed the government after protests erupted.

Security forces continue to use live fire against demonstrators, in addition to tear gas canisters and stun grenades fired directly at protesters. Government sources had said ties between them were cut after Saleh proposed the premier be replaced.

Iraqi forces killed at least four anti-government protesters and wounded 108 others in capital Baghdad, Iraqi medical and security officials said on Saturday, despite calls for calm by the embattled prime minister.

Amnesty International said it has found the military-grade tear gas canisters were Serbian- or Iranian-made.

Doctors at hospitals have shown scans of tear gas canisters embedded in the skulls of dead protesters.

Almost 300 people have been killed in protest-related violence since demonstrations erupted on October 1 and swiftly spread from Baghdad to cities across the south, according to an AFP toll.

Activists and medics say they have been subject to a campaign of intimidation, with two activists killed in Missan on Wednesday by unknown assailants.

Parliament convened Saturday afternoon to discuss reform proposals, including hiring drives and increased welfare payouts.

One in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, according to World Bank figures.

Officials and analysts fear that militants could exploit unrest to sow more chaos in Iraq, which has suffered decades of conflict, sanctions and corrupt governance.

On Friday, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric, urged the country's ruling elite to seek a peaceful way out of the crisis in which at least 280 people have died.

On Friday, around a dozen rockets hit the Qayyarah base - an Iraqi military installation where U.S. troops are stationed near the northern city of Mosul - according to local sources.

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