BAGHDAD: At least eight people were killed in new clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters on Sunday, the sixth day of unrest in which the death toll has now passed 100 and more than 6,000 have been wounded.
The eight were killed in eastern Baghdad, police sources said, after police backed by the armed forces used live rounds. The demonstrators had taken to the streets hours after the government announced reforms to try to ease anger over corruption and unemployment.
The unrest is the biggest security and political challenge for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government since it took power a year ago. The clashes have revived fears of a new spiral of violence that could suck in influential militia groups and be exploited by Islamic State.
Before the latest clashes in the Sadr City residential district of the capital, an Interior Ministry spokesman said 104 people had been killed, including eight members of the security forces, in the unrest since Tuesday.
He said 6,107 had been wounded, including more than 1,000 police and security forces, and dozens of buildings had been set ablaze, he added. But he denied the security forces had fired directly at the protesters.
Two years after oil-producing Iraq declared the defeat of Islamic State, security has improved but corruption is rampant, wrecked infrastructure has not been rebuilt and jobs are scarce.
The protests, which have hit many parts of the country, do not appear to be organised by a single political group and seemed to catch the government by surprise.
At an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday night, the government agreed a 17-point plan to increase subsidized housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed and training programs and small loans initiatives for unemployed youth.
The families of those killed during demonstrations this week will also receive handouts and care usually granted to members of the security forces killed during war, it said.
“Amid all of this, I swear to God that my only concern is for the casualties,” Abdul Mahdi was quoted by state television as saying during the cabinet meeting.
Details of the plan were disseminated on social media, but there was a continued internet outage across most of the country.