‘Outlaw criminals’ responsible for Baghdad protest shooting, says Barham Salih

Twenty-five Iraqis died as gunmen opened fire on Baghdad’s Khilani Square on Friday

Iraqi President Barham Salih has blamed “criminal and outlaw gangs” for an attack on protesters in Baghdad on Friday, which killed 25 and wounded 130.

It was the latest in a series of increasing attacks, including stabbings on Thursday in Tahrir Square, the centre of Iraq’s leaderless protest movement.

Mr Salih condemned Friday’s attack, in which gunmen in cars opened fire on Baghdad’s Khilani Square.

He said the shootings were carried out by criminal gangs and criticised troops for failing to protect the demonstrators.

Mr Salih said government forces did not “chase the outlaw criminals and arrest them, and bring them to the judiciary for punishment".

At least 400 people have died since the uprising shook Iraq on October 1.

Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets in Baghdad and southern Iraq decrying corruption, poor services and lack of jobs, and calling for an end to the political system that was imposed after the 2003 US invasion.

The demonstrators had some wins last week as the country’s Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, agreed to resign, and his offer was accepted by Parliament.

Mr Abdul Mahdi and his government will stay on in a caretaker role until a new government can be chosen, he said last week.

On Sunday a list of conditions for choosing the next prime minister, signed by 120 MPs, was submitted to Mr Salih, Iraqi state news service Ina reported.

Iraq's top Shiite cleric Ali Al Sistani said a new prime minister must be chosen without foreign interference.

There have been reports that senior Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani had been in Baghdad this week to rally support for a government that would continue to serve Iran's interests.

Mr Al Sistani has repeatedly condemned the killing of unarmed protesters and urged demonstrators to remain peaceful and stop saboteurs turning their opposition violent.

"We hope a new head of government and its members will be chosen within the constitutional deadline," a representative of Mr Al Sistani said in his Friday sermon in Karbala.

The deadline was set for 15 days after the resignation was formalised in Parliament on Sunday last week.

The representative said that Mr Al Sistani would not get involved in the process of choosing a new government.

Washington on Friday imposed sanctions on three Iranian-backed paramilitary leaders who it accused of directing the killing of Iraqi protesters.

A senior US Treasury official suggested the sanctions were timed to distance those figures from any role in forming a new government.