Fifteen people have been killed and at least 200 wounded in Dhi Qar alone during three days of nationwide protests, a member of the provincial council in Iraq’s south told Rudaw on Friday.
“The toll of victims of the protests in Dhi Qar province has reached 15 dead and 200 injured,” Hassan al-Asadi said.
The death toll nationwide stands at 31, Iraq’s Independent High Human Rights Commission told Rudaw late on Thursday. The toll in Dhi Qar alone therefore counts for almost half of all fatalities.
Iraqis took to the streets on Tuesday to protest high unemployment, poverty, corruption, and a lack of basic services.
Although the protests have been mostly peaceful, violence has broken out in the capital Baghdad and other part of the country.
Security forces have tried to quell the protests with live ammunition and tear gas. Although curfews and road closures are in place, further violence is expected after Friday prayers.
Rudaw’s reporter in Baghdad says all roads leading to Tahrir Square have all been closed, as has the Republican Bridge leading directly to the Green Zone.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement on Friday saying it is concerned by the increasingly violent clashes between protesters and security forces.
“The use of force by security forces must be proportionate to the situation and is an exceptional measure,” said the ICRC’s head of delegation in Iraq, Katharina Ritz. “In particular, firearms and live ammunition must only be used as a last resort, and to protect against an imminent threat to life.”
Asadi said the Dhi Qar provincial council met with security chiefs and tribal leaders on Thursday to discuss plans to prevent security breaches and attacks on state property.
He denied reinforcements had been sent to the province to help restore order.
The protests, which began Tuesday in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, soon spread to southern Shiite-majority provinces, including the nation’s oil hub Basra, Dhi Qar, Najaf, and elsewhere.
An indefinite curfew was imposed from 5am on Thursday and internet services were disrupted.
Although the streets appeared calm on Friday morning, Assadi believes protests will resume after Friday prayers.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi addressed the nation in a speech in the early hours of Friday morning.
While admitting protesters have legitimate demands, the PM said there is no magical solution to resolve all their grievances.