Baghdad, Iraq – At least 14 people have been killed after security forces used live ammunition and tear gas canisters to disperse anti-government protesters in the southern city of Nasiriya, medical sources and witnesses told Al Jazeera.
Authorities in the capital Baghdad dispatched troops to southern Iraq, which has seen massive protests for weeks, to “restore order” there, the military said in a statement on Thursday.
Security sources told Al Jazeera that at least 120 others were wounded in the crackdown on protests in Nasiriya on Thursday, a day after the Iranian consulate was set on fire in Shia holy city of Najaf.
Several of the wounded are believed to be in critical condition. Medical sources, however, have told Al Jazeera that the death toll has gone up to 18 but it has yet to be confirmed by officials.
Political News: ‘Force won’t scare us’
Hussein, a 32-year-old lawyer from Nasiriya who was at the protest site, blamed the security forces for what he called a “bloodbath”.
“We had blocked off the roads and bridges over the past four days and security forces moved in on us to try to open up the bridges. They opened fire leading to a bloodbath,” he told Al Jazeera.
“What’s happening in Nasiriya is unbelievable. Nothing justifies this use of violence against us. We, the people, are extremely angry. Our blood is boiling. Our brothers were killed unjustifiably.
“But this use of force won’t scare us. More of us have gone out to the streets to either hold to demand justice for those who have been killed or keep the bridges under our control.”
Khalifa, a 30-year-old protester, told Al Jazeera that everyone in Nasiriya lost a brother or a friend during the events on Thursday.
“The pain is deep. And that only makes us more adamant to protests and keep we keep occupying the roads and bridges,” he said.
“We will stay in the streets until our demands our met, no matter what level of force is used against us.”
Meanwhile, the governor of Dhi Qar called on Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to withdraw military commanders that were sent to Nasiriya, the capital city of the province, holding the military units responsible for escalations on Thursday.
Adel al-Dukhali called for an investigation into what he described as “unacceptable” use of force against protesters.
Political News: Iran demands action
The events in Nasiriya come a day after anti-government protesters stormed and set fire to the Iranian consulate in the southern holy city of Najaf, in the strongest expression of anti-Iranian sentiment by Iraqi protesters, who have taken to the streets in Baghdad and Iraq’s mainly Shia south since early October.
More than 360 people have been killed and more than 15,000 wounded so far, according to an AFP news agency tally.
The Iraqi authorities responded by condemning the attack and imposing a curfew in Najaf, while Iran demanded that Iraq take decisive action against “aggressors” behind the arson attack.
The foreign ministry spokesperson, Abbas Mousavi, quoted by state news agency IRNA, condemned the attack and “demanded decisive, effective and responsible action… against destructive agents and aggressors”.
“Iran has officially communicated its disgust to the Iraq ambassador in Tehran,” he said.
The protesters were holding a demonstratio