At least 18 people are dead as masked gunmen attack Iraqi protesters
Affected Countries: iraq;
Masked gunmen wearing black clothing gunned down the protesters in Karbala, a Shia holy city in central Iraq, in one of the deadliest attacks since anti-government protests began this month.
More than 800 people are thought to be have been injured in the attack.
The early morning gunfire came as protesters took to the streets for the fifth day in a row to demonstrate against alleged government corruption, lack of services and economic hardship.
A total of 90 people have been killed since Friday, when the protests began, with a further 149 deaths earlier in the month during a separate wave of protests in the country.
It was not immediately clear who was behind Tuesday’s attack, and protesters said they did not know whether the masked men were riot police, special forces or Iran-linked militias active in the country.
Security officials said the attack happened in Karbala’s Education Square, just over a mile away from the area where the protesters had set up tents for a sit-in.
Witnesses say that hundreds of protesters were shot at from a passing car, before masked gunmen arrived to continue to the attack.
Cities in Iraq’s southern region have been in the midst of violent anti-government protests, leading to security forces opening fire on activists, who have in turn set fire to official and Iran-backed military buildings.
Activists are angry with the level of corruption, the poor performance of the economy and the lack of public services in Iraq. Many people in the country face frequent power outages, and end up using privately funded generators to keep the lights on.
Protesters are not just calling for government resignations, but widespread changes to the way the country is run.
A reform and re-shuffle package has been put on the table by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi, but had been rejected by activists.
On Monday, officials announced a curfew would be in place from midnight until 6am in the capital Baghdad, after protests in the area continued, with 25,000 people thought to be involved.
Thousands of students skipped class in Baghdad to participate in the protests, which turned into deadly clashes with government forces.
Of those killed, a female medical student, 22, became the first woman to be killed in the protests since they began earlier in the month.
The protests have broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq after almost fifteen years marked by foreign occupation, civil war and an Islamic State insurgency.