Three protesters were killed yesterday in Baghdad, medics and police sources told AFP, as Iraqi security forces cleared streets around Tahrir Square, the heart of the month-long movement demanding regime change.
Two suffered bullet wounds and the third died when a tear gas canister pierced his skull, the sources said, adding that at least 80 more protesters were wounded.
And in the southern city of Basra, security forces cleared a protest camp outside the provincial government headquarters, leaving three dead and dozens wounded, according to medical sources.
The move came after political leaders agreed to stand by the current government by any means necessary, including force.
The fractured political class appears to have rallied around embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, whose government was threatened by the largest and deadliest grassroots protests in Iraq in decades.
Earlier, security forces wrested back control of three bridges over the River Tigris in the heart of Baghdad that had been partially occupied by anti-government protesters.
They retook the Al-Sinek, Al-Shuhada and Al-Ahrar bridges that link the east bank, where the main protest camps are located, with west bank districts which are home to government offices and foreign embassies.
Amid volleys of tear gas, security forces chased demonstrators back onto Al-Rasheed Street, one of Baghdad’s oldest and most celebrated thoroughfares.
Protesters still occupy part of Al-Jumhuriyah (Republic) Bridge, the southernmost of the capital’s bridges and the closest to the focal point of the protests in Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
In the Shia holy city of Karbala, protesters’ tents were reduced to ashes when security forces fired searing hot tear gas canisters at them.
The demonstrators had thrown molotov cocktails and lit fires on the concrete blast walls around the offices, before security forces used tear gas and live rounds to disperse them.
Amnesty International said the security forces have been using military-grade tear gas canisters made in Iran or Serbia that can be deadly if fired at point-blank range.
Nearly 300 people have died in protest-related violence since rallies erupted on October 1, spreading from Baghdad to cities across the south, according to an AFP toll.
The government has stopped issuing updated figures.
Public anger first focused on widespread corruption and a lack of jobs, then escalated into calls for the entire ruling system to be overturned.