Iraq's key port closed again after six protesters killed by security forces

A woman is helped across the street as Iraqi security forces try to disperse anti-government protesters during ongoing protests in Baghdad on Thursday

A woman is helped across the street as Iraqi security forces try to disperse anti-government protesters during ongoing protests in Baghdad on Thursday

"Abdel Mahdi's position means more to him than the blood of Iraqis", charged a tribal dignitary who was protesting in Baghdad on Friday.

In his Friday sermon, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the 88-year-old spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites whose words hold sway over public opinion, called on security forces to avoid violence and the government to meet protesters' demands.

The country is beginning to feel the fiscal pinch of weeks of the unrest, which started in Baghdad and quickly spread to southern cities.

Four Iraqis were shot and killed on Thursday as they tried to remove barriers blocking their march in central Baghdad, while in the south, protesters forced the closing of the country's main port hours after services had resumed following days of closure, officials said.

More than 250 people have been killed since protests began on October 1.

The demonstrators, mostly unemployed youths, demand an overhaul of the political system and a corrupt ruling class.

HRW also urged Iraq's worldwide partners, including the US, European countries, and Iran, to end assistance to units involved in violations against protesters and publicly condemn the actions of the security forces.

The harsh response to the protests, some of which have been peaceful while others were violent, has only fuelled public anger against the government.

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Snipers from militias that have participated in the crackdown were deployed last month, Reuters reported.

Even the use of tear gas has been deadly, with medics and rights groups documenting security forces firing canisters at point-blank range instead of up in the air to allow the gas to disperse.

"Given Iraq's history of civil unrest and global training not only for military operations but also for crowd control, Iraqi authorities should not get a free pass for misusing teargas as a lethal weapon instead of a crowd dispersal method", Whitson said in the press release.

A crackdown by authorities against mostly unarmed protesters has killed more than 260 people since demonstrations began on October 1 over lack of jobs, chronic power and clean water shortages, poor education and healthcare and corruption.

The protesters have also rejected foreign interference in Iraq, which has always been caught between its two main allies and bitter rivals the United States and Iran. On Thursday night, masked men attacked protesters in the city, killing five people, Iraqi state TV and medical officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The Sinak bridge over the River Tigris was demolished today. A similar tactic is being used in Lebanon's ongoing anti-government demonstrations.

For a week, protesters have cut access to Basra's Umm Qasr port, which brings in most of Iraq's food and medical imports.

A senior source at the North Oil Company, which manages the Qayyarah field, told reporters that trucks were unable to carry out that journey for a third consecutive day.

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