Iraq protests continue despite mounting death toll

Students join demonstrations for a second day as two more MPs resign

Protests against the Iraq's government continued on Monday despite scores of people being killed in clashes with security forces over the weekend and the resignation of four politicians.

The death toll since Friday stood at 74, with 3,654 injured, a member of the Iraqi Commission for Human Rights told The National.

Five protesters were reportedly killed in the Iraqi capital on Monday.

On Monday evening, the country's military said that cars and pedestrians would be banned in Baghdad starting from midnight, raising concerns that security forces would storm protest camps.

But as the curfew came into effect, people were still streaming into Baghdad's Tahrir Square in cars and on foot. It was the fifth consecutive night that the square was occupied.

University students and pupils joined the protests in Baghdad and cities in southern Iraq for a second day to demand that the government quit, defying the Education Ministry’s call to return to class and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's threat of punishment.

“No school, no classes, until the regime collapses” protesters shouted in Diwaniyah, 180 kilometres south of Baghdad.

Diwaniyah's union of universities and schools on Monday declared a 10-day strike "until the regime falls", with thousands of students and even professors flooding the streets.

Authorities announced a curfew from midnight to 6am in Baghdad as protests over poor public services, lack of employment and corruption raged for a fourth day in the capital and southern Iraq.

"I came out to protest against the corrupt government," high school pupil Amir Khadem, 17, told The National.

"It’s been many years with the corrupt government stealing our oil and supplies and I think people have had enough of it."

Four members of Parliament resigned in anger at the government's response and failure to address the public's demands.

Parliament's only two Communist members, Raed Fahmy and Haifa Al Amin, quit "in support of the peaceful, popular movement", they said.

They called on the government to resign and for early elections under a new voting system.

Two other MPs, Taha Al Difai and Muzahem Al Tamimi, resigned on Sunday.

Parliament met on Monday for the first time since the protests began on October 1, and voted to form a committee to amend the constitution and meet the demands of protesters, and to cancel privileges for politicians.

But the decision was met with some scepticism.

"Until this moment the Iraqi government has not been able to create any reforms and that is the reason we want to change this government," Hussein Al Najjar, an activist and member of Iraq's Communist Party, told The National.

"I think if they change the constitution they could make it worse. They don’t want a civil government or freedom of expression."

Protesters have defied bullets, tear gas and other violence that have killed more than 200 since the demonstrations started in early October.

“We have received 64 complaint of human rights abuses,” said Ali Al Bayati, a member of Iraq's human rights commission.

"We will investigate and take the matter further by referring it to the general prosecutor to be sent to the human rights court."

The US called on all sides to “reject the cycle of violence” and expressed concern about the forced closure of media outlets.

“Press freedom is inherent to democratic reform,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

"We support the fundamental right to freedom of expression, constitutionally granted to all media organisations, and the right of journalists to practise their profession in safety.

The UN special representative to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, expressed concern about the “armed entities seeking to hinder Iraq’s stability and unity”.

“The protection of human life always comes first,'' Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said.

"Armed entities sabotaging the peaceful demonstrations, eroding the government’s credibility and ability to act, cannot be tolerated.

"Iraq has come a long way, and cannot afford to slide back into a new cycle of violence.”