Explosions hit Iraq's south as protests continue

Three injured in blasts aimed at armed groups aligned with Iran

Security forces close the Ahrar Bridge during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
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There were more protests and explosions in southern Iraqi cities on Tuesday, security sources said.

The city of Amara was hit overnight by four near-simultaneous explosions in attacks against the premises of two pro-Iran armed factions, police said.

"Three sound grenades targeted two premises and the house of an Assaib Ahl Al Haq leader and an improvised explosive device targeted the house of an Ansar Allah commander," police said.

Asaib Ahl Al Haq is one of the most powerful groups in Iraq's Hashed Al Shaabi security force, a network of armed groups integrated into the state, of which Ansar Allah is also a part.

Medical sources said three people were wounded by the blasts.

Founded in 2014 to fight ISIS after it seized large areas of northern Iraq and Syria, many factions in the Hashed have been backed by Iran.

Security sources said the attacks were launched against the groups because of their loyalty to Iran, whose influence continues to grow in Iraq, particularly through armed groups it has long trained and financed.

The attacks follow the recent bloodshed in several Iraqi cities. In the latest, 24 people were killed, including four police officers, in central Baghdad on Friday.

The state and the protesters accuse armed men of causing the violence. The government claims it is not possible to identify those responsible, while demonstrators blame pro-Iran groups.

Since October 1, Iraq's capital and its south have been gripped by rallies against corruption, poor public services, lack of jobs and Iran's political interference.

More than 450 people have been killed and 20,000 wounded during the protests demanding an overhaul of the political system.

In the city of Karbala, protesters rallied at the police station to demand information within 24 hours on the death of Fahem Al Tai, 53, a prominent activist gunned down on Sunday evening while returning home from protests.

Others blocked access to the courthouse to demand action against local leaders for corruption in a country ranked 12th most corrupt in the world by Transparency International.

In Diwaniya, also in the south, protesters demanding employment blocked the road to the Shanafiya oil refinery, police said.

Despite Iraq being Opec's second-largest crude producer, one in five of its people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at about 25 per cent, the World Bank says.

Protesters from several southern cities on Tuesday joined thousands of demonstrators gathered for more than two months in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, the centre of demonstrations in the capital.

"We came to support our brothers in Baghdad," said Haydar Kazem, an activist in the movement from Nasiriya.