At Least 7 Dead, Embassies Sealed Off As Iraq Protests Rage; Police Open Fire On Crowds

Protests in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad which began relatively peacefully on Tuesday have spiraled out of control Wednesday, and into other cities, after witnessing a heavy handed police response resulting in up to seven reported deaths, according to data from Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), cited also by the AFP.

Though the initial protest origins remain obscure, the larger wave on Wednesday has been generally seen as fueled by anger over corruption, unemployment, and the lack of basic services.

Federal police have sought to clamp down on the increasingly violent demonstrations through rubber bullets, tear gas, and even the use of live ammunition. This prompted a statement from the US Embassy in the country, condemning the violence on both sides. At least 200 people were reported injured on Tuesday alone. 

Protests raged in downtown Baghdad on Tuesday, and quickly turned violent, according to The New York Times. Image source: AFP/Getty.

“US embassy in Baghdad continues to monitor recent protests closely,” the statement read. “The right to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental right in all democracies, but there is no place for violence in demonstrations from any side.”

The embassy confirmed that multiple protesters had been killed as it urged all sides to “reject violence while exercising restraint”. The Iraqi government has vowed to investigate the "heavy-handed response" of security forces in a statement as elsewhere security forces report the situation is "out of control".

Social media image showed throngs of angry protesters in Baghdad on Tuesday. 

The AFP reported Wednesday that "Iraqi security forces fired live rounds on Wednesday to disperse new protests in the capital."

Protests in Baghdad streets on Wednesday, via the AFP.

Repeat bursts of live fire can be heard in a number of social media videos showing Baghdad's restive streets on Wednesday. 

And late in the day Reuters reports armed elements within the demonstrators are now firing back on police in various cities in what marks a major escalation:

Gunfights between protesters and security forces broke out in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya on Wednesday, with elite counter-terrorism troops deploying after police “lost control” of the situation, police sources told Reuters.

As evening fell, large groups of young men were filmed making their way toward the 'Green Zone' - the high security zone of the capital that hosts embassies, diplomatic compounds, and the headquarters for various international organizations. 

There are reports that internet access has also been cut across much of the country.

Expressing solidarity with some of the issues demonstrators have complained about, Iraq's President Barham Salih issued a public statement late Tuesday, telling security forces that "peaceful protest is a constitutional right".

The president added: "Our young Iraqi children are looking for reform and jobs, and our duty is to meet these legitimate demands."