Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric says security forces must keep peace

Iraqi protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks gather for an anti-government demonstration in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Wednesday.—AFP

The ayatollah, Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric, said the protests were an opportunity "to respond to people's put an end to a long period of corruption".

Along with the six killed, at least 41 protesters were wounded as security forces fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse the march in downtown Baghdad's Rashid Street, where the central bank is located, security and medical officials said.

The new stoppage of operations at Umm Qasr port in the south is likely to compound financial losses a day after the government said a weeklong halt of operations had cost more than $6bn.

The canisters have pierced protesters' skulls and chests, with the United Nations saying at least 16 people had been killed that way as of November 5.

More than 250 people have been killed since the unrest erupted October 1.

"The riot police hit us with batons on our heads and we threw rocks at them", said Mahmoud, a 20-year-old protester being treated by medics after trying to cross Al Shuhada Bridge. Days earlier, masked men suspected of links to the security forces opened fire on a demonstration there, killing at least 18 people.

Iraq has held regular elections since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein following the USA -led invasion of 2003, but they have been dominated by Shiite Islamist parties that have failed to deliver on promises to improve daily life.

As monitoring the ongoing demonstrations in Baghdad and a number of provinces through its teams, the commission noted that the security forces continued to use live bullets, tear gas and sound bombs to disperse protesters.

The violent response from authorities has fuelled public anger.

Snipers from militias that have participated in the crackdown were deployed last month, Reuters reported.

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

He also warned the protesters against being exploited by "internal and external forces" that for decades have had a role in harming Iraq. He did not elaborate. The statement did not say who was believed to be behind the attack, but added that there were no injuries or major damage.

A crackdown by authorities against mostly unarmed protesters has killed more than 250 people since unrest broke out on October 1 over lack of jobs, services and an infrastructure wrecked by decades of conflict, sanctions and corruption.

The United States blamed Iran-backed militia for rocket attacks on other bases in May this year, but US forces are also involved in a fight against Islamic State militants.

The protesters have also rejected foreign interference in Iraq, which has always been caught between its two main allies and bitter rivals the United States and Iran.



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