Anti-government protesters gather near Basra provincial council building during a demonstration in Basra. AP
A fresh wave of demonstrations has rocked Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces since Friday against government corruption. Authorities have imposed curfew in Karbala as anti-government protests continued in the southern city.
All individuals and vehicles will be forbidden to move from 18:00 local time (15:00 GMT) until Tuesday morning, mayor Nassif Al Khattab said in a statement on Monday.
At least 18 people were killed and 865 wounded overnight after Iraqi security forces opened fire on protesters in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala, medical and security sources told the media on Tuesday.
Three protesters died in the southern city of Nassiriya from wounds sustained in earlier protests, medical sources said.
Iraqis took to the streets for a fourth day on Monday in a second wave of protests against Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's government and a political elite they say are corrupt and out of touch. The total death toll since the unrest started on Oct. 1 is now at least 250 people.
The unrest, driven by discontent over economic hardship and deep-seated corruption, has broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq, which from 2003 to 2017 endured a foreign occupation, civil war and an Daesh insurgency.
Security forces fired tear gas at school and university students on Monday who defied a warning from Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and joined thousands in Baghdad protesting against his government.
Soldiers were seen beating high school students with batons in two Baghdad districts. A Defence Ministry statement condemned the incident and said the soldiers did not represent the Iraqi army as a whole. It did not say if they would be punished.
Populist Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who backs parliament's largest bloc and helped bring Abdul Mahdi's fragile coalition government to power, called on Monday for early elections after a curfew was announced in the capital Baghdad.
A rights commission said the total death toll nationwide since anti-government rallies erupted this month to nearly 240.
Ali Bayati of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said it was unclear how they had died, but many in Baghdad in recent days have sustained severe trauma wounds from tear gas canisters fired by security forces.
Iraqi medical students take part in an anti-government demonstration in Najaf. AFP
The students skipped classes at several universities and secondary schools in Baghdad and across Iraq's majority-Shiite south on Monday to take part in the protests, despite the government ordering schools and universities to operate normally. Seventeen students were among the wounded, but none were killed.
Swathes of the country have been engulfed by protests this month, with anger over unemployment and accusations of graft evolving into demands for a total political overhaul.
This week, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi found himself under pressure from a new source: Iraqi students.
"No school, no classes, until the regime collapses!" boycotting students shouted on Monday in Diwaniyah, 180 kilometres south of the capital.
Diwaniyah's union of universities and schools announced a ten-day strike on Monday "until the regime falls", with thousands of uniformed pupils and even professors flooding the streets.
They came out despite Higher Education Minister Qusay Al Suhail's warning on Sunday that academic life should "stay away" from protests, after around a dozen schools and universities in Baghdad had joined sweeping rallies.
A spokesman for Abdel Mahdi even threatened that any further disruption to schools would be met with "severe punishment".
But young protesters still gathered on Monday morning in the southern cities of Nasiriyah, Hillah and Basra.
In Kut, most government offices were shut for lack of staff.
'No nation, no class!'
In Baghdad, demonstrators gathered on campuses and in Tahrir Square.
"Qusay al-Suhail said not to come down into the streets. But we say: no nation, no class!" one student protester said.
"All we want is for the government to immediately submit its resignation. Either it resigns, or it gets ousted."
About 60 per cent of Iraq's 40-million-strong population is under the age of 25.
But youth unemployment stands at 25 percent and one in five people live below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC's second-largest crude producer.
Anger at inequality and accusations that government corruption was fuelling it sparked protests in Baghdad on October 1 that have since attracted growing numbers of young people.
On Monday, a group of three students drove up close to Tahrir Square, unloading kits and cans of Pepsi to help treat those affected by tear gas.
"It's my first day at the protests. I told my mom I'm going to class, but I came here instead!" a girl with curly hair told the media.
An injured protester is rushed to a hospital during a demonstration in Baghdad. AP
In the province of Diyala, which had so far been calm, two members of the provincial council resigned in solidarity with the rallies.
Even in the holy city of Najaf, dozens of young clerics-to-be took to the streets.
The protests are unprecedented in recent Iraqi history for their ire at the entire political class, with some even criticising traditionally revered religious leaders.
"We want the parliament to be dissolved, a temporary government, an amended constitution and early elections under United Nations supervision," a demonstrator in Baghdad told AFP on Monday.
"That's what the people want. We don't want another solution."
Abdel Mahdi has proposed a laundry list of reforms, including hiring drives, increased pensions and promises to root out corruption.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh has also held discussions with the UN on electoral reform and amendments to the 2005 constitution.
Parliament has tried to meet to discuss the protests but failed several times to reach a quorum.
Lawmakers were set to meet on Monday, but the sitting had not begun at the scheduled time of 1:00 pm (1000 GMT).
Four lawmakers resigned late on Sunday in solidarity with demonstrators, and the largest bloc has been holding an open-ended sit-in since Saturday night.
Saeroon, the bloc tied to firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, said it was dropping its support for Abdel Mahdi.
The move has left the premier more squeezed than ever, as Saeroon was one of the two main sponsors of his government.
The other was Fatah, the political arm of the Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary force, which has said it would continue to back the central government.
Several Hashed offices have been torched in recent days in southern Iraq, prompting vows of "revenge" from its leaders.
Sadr responded Sunday, warning them: "Do not champion the corrupt. Do not repress the people."
Security forces used live fire against protesters near Shuhada Bridge in central Baghdad. Gunfire was used against demonstrators in Basra, the main source of Iraq's oil wealth, who had staged a days-long sit-in.
The altercations on two key bridges in the Iraqi capital also left at least 44 people wounded, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Both bridges appeared to be calm by morning hours.
Separately, a Katyusha rocket landed near the fortified Green Zone, Iraq’s seat of government, police officials said. There were no casualties from the incident. Last week two rockets landed in Tigris river and a stadium, both near the Green Zone.
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