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Iraqi policeman shot dead, dozens wounded in Nasiriyah protests

Witnesses said security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators from the city's Haboubi Square, after third consecutive day of protests
Iraqi protesters are pictured next to burning tyres during clashes with police during anti-government demonstrations in Nasiriyah, southern Iraq, on 10 January 2021 (AFP)

A policeman was killed Sunday in Iraq, as security forces tried to disperse a third consecutive day of protests in the city of Nasiriyah, according to medics.

The policeman was "killed by a bullet to the head", a medic in the city, 300km south of the capital Baghdad, said, according to AFP.

The army confirmed the death. "Thirty-three other policemen were wounded in the events of the day," the military added, without elaborating. 

Medical sources said several protesters had been wounded.

Iraqi lawyer and activist killed after home invasion in Nasiriyah
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Witnesses said security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators from a city square that has been at the centre of a widespread protest movement that began in October 2019. 

A sprawl of tents in Haboubi Square had been in place until November 2020, when eight people were killed in clashes between anti-government protesters and followers of the Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

Anti-government protesters reoccupied the square on Friday, demanding the release of peers arrested in recent weeks.

Security forces repeatedly fired in the air and launched smoke grenades towards the protesters.

A spokesman for the protesters told AFP that 13 demonstrators who had been arrested were released, adding that authorities had promised other detainees would be released the next day.

Iraq's protests fizzled out last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a crackdown that left nearly 600 dead and 30,000 wounded.

But kidnappings, targeted killings and arrests of protest leaders have continued, with many activists facing kidnapping and assassination by armed groups over their involvement in the anti-government protests.

'Hideous and criminal'

On Friday, a senior lawyer and activist, Ali al-Hamami, was killed in Nasiriyah after unknown assailants broke into his home, according to officials and local media.

A member of the semi-official Iraq High Commission for Human Rights tweeted that Hamami had died of "suffocation" on Friday after a group of men entered his house in the Shatra region of the city.

According to the Dhi Qar Bar Association, Hamami's mouth had been gagged with tape and his house had been robbed.

In a statement on Friday, the organisation condemned his killing as "hideous and criminal" and called for an investigation.

Lawyers have been a particular target of violence in Iraq in recent years.

The Iraqi Bar Association website lists the names of 194 lawyers who have been killed in Iraq since 2003, when the US-led coalition overthrew former ruler Saddam Hussein.

Alongside demanding an end to political corruption, Iraqi protesters want jobs and improved public services. 

But the state's ability to finance these demands is hamstrung by an economic crisis, including a yawning fiscal deficit.

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