Iraqi PM calls for protests to allow a return to 'normal life'

Iran's pointman for Iraq Major General Qasem Soleimani has been in regular contact with Iraqi leaders including populist cleric Moqtada al Sadr

Iran's pointman for Iraq Major General Qasem Soleimani has been in regular contact with Iraqi leaders including populist cleric Moqtada al Sadr

Human rights groups have issued increasingly anxious statements about the tactics being used against unarmed, largely peaceful protesters.

Doctors at hospitals have shown Reuters scans of tear gas canisters embedded in the skulls of dead protesters.

The top religious leader in Iraq, Sistani has long warned against using force against the protesters, and now says it is time to just meet the demands of the protesters immediately.

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.

Masked men attacked anti-government protesters in Iraq's southern city of Basra overnight, killing five and wounding scores, Iraqi state TV and medical officials said on Friday.

The deaths occurred Saturday as the protests intensified in the afternoon, when demonstrators tried to reach the three bridges spanning the Tigris River to the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of government.

The demonstrators, mostly unemployed youths, demand an overhaul of the political system and a corrupt ruling class which has dominated state institutions since the US -led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

At least 34 people were injured as security forces launched tear gas and stun grenades to try to disperse protesters still grouped near the bridges.

More than 280 people have been killed since the protests over unemployment, poor services and endemic corruption began in Baghdad on October 1 and quickly spread to southern provinces.

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Iraqi protesters set fire to block a street during clashes with riot police forces following a protest and at Khillani square, in central Baghdad, Iraq, 09 November 2019.

Abdel Mahdi, 77, came to power past year through a shaky alliance between populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri, a leader of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network.

Khazaali and Ameri are leading commanders in the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network, which has publicly backed the government after protests erupted.

But they closed rank around the premier this week after a series of meetings led by Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's foreign operations arm.

Soleimani, who often plays a mediating role during times of crisis in Iraq, met Sadr and persuaded him to return to the fold, said a source present at the meetings. Al-Sistani's office said the government should respond to protesters' demands, adding that the cleric's name was being used for "political exploitation".

"We have lost many martyrs...and we are ready to sacrifice more martyrs", stated one protester. "The speech won't make a difference", said one woman protesting in Baghdad whose son was killed in recent clashes. "Tomorrow, no one goes to work", he said.

Protesters still occupy part of Al Jumhuriyah (Republic) Bridge, the southernmost of the capital's bridges and the closest to the main protest camp in Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

"He says he's supporting protests and that we should keep going but he hasn't helped".

They are demanding profound reform and constitutional amendments.

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