20 Iraqi Protesters Shot Dead in 24 hours, Violence Spirals

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Security forces Thursday fired live ammunition, killing fourand wounding 22 on the strategic Ahrar Bridge in Baghdad, security and medical officials said.
Violence across southerncontinued throughout the night, with security forces killing 16and wounding 90 since Wednesday evening.closed roads and a large number of police and military forces were deployed across key oil-rich provinces.
In Baghdad,attempted to cross the Ahrar Bridge leading nearby to the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government.are occupying parts of three– Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar – all leading to the fortified area. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Protesters had set fire to the Iranian consulate in the holy city oflate Wednesday, in one of the worst attacks targeting Iranian interests in the country since the anti-governmenterupted two months ago. The Iranian staff were not harmed and escaped out the back door.
Anti-governmenthave grippedsince Oct. 1, when thousands took to the streets inand the predominantly Shiite south. The largely leaderless movement accuses theof being hopelessly corrupt, and has also decried Iran’s growing influence in Iraqi state affairs.

At least 350 people have been killed by security forces, which routinely used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds, sometimes shootingdirectly with gas canisters, causing several fatalities.
Separately, the U.S. Embassy denounced a recent decision by Iraq’s media regulator to suspend nine television channels, calling for the Communications and Media Commission to reverse its decision. Thursday’s statement from the U.S. Embassy inalso condemned attacks and harassment against journalists.

Local channel Dijla TV had its license suspended on Tuesday for its coverage of the protests, and its office was closed and its equipment confiscated, according an official from one of the channels under threat.

Other channels have been asked by the regulatory commission to sign a pledge “agreeing to adhere to its rules,” said the official, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal.

The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s coordinated bombings in threeneighborhoods, which killed five people. That was the first apparent coordinated attack since anti-governmentbegan.

The bombings took place far from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of weeks of anti-governmentthat have posed the biggest security challenge tosince the defeat of IS.
Tehran called for a “responsible, strong and effective” response leadership to the incident from Iraq’s government, said Abbas Mousavi, a foreign ministry spokesman, in statements to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.
Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the torching of the consulate, saying it was perpetrated by “people outside of the genuine protesters,” in a statement, adding that the purpose had been to harm bilateral relations between the countries.

One demonstrator was killed and 35 wounded when police fired live ammunition to prevent them from entering the Iranian consulate building. Once inside, the demonstrators removed the Iranian flag and replaced it with an Iraqi one, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations.

A curfew was imposed inafter the consulate was burned. Security forces were heavily deployed around mainbuildings and religious institutions on Thursday morning. The province is the headquarters of the country’s Shiite religious authority.
The consulate attack comes after days of sit-ins and road closures withcutting access to main thoroughfares andwith burning tires.have also lately targeted the state’s economic interests in the south by blocking key ports and roads to oil fields.

In the oil-rich province of Nassiriya, 16were killed overnight and 90 wounded by security forces who fired live ammunition to disperse them from a key bridge, security and medical officials said Thursday.
Demonstrators had been blocking Nasr Bridge leading to the city center for several days. Security forces moved in late Wednesday to open the main thoroughfare. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

n Basra, security forces were deployed in the city’s main roads to preventfrom staging sit-ins, with instructions to arrest demonstrators if they tried to block roads.

Basra’s streets were open as of Thursday morning, but roads leading to the two main Gulf commodities ports in Umm Qasr and Khor al-Zubair remained closed. Schools and official public institutions were also closed.
Protesters had brought traffic in the oil-rich province to a halt for days by burning tires and barricading roads.