Protesters kill gunman who shot dead six in Baghdad square

Moqtada Al Sadr gives 48-hour deadline to find killers or he will order his militia to leave square

A gunman shot dead six people, including four protesters, on Thursday before anti-government demonstrators disarmed and killed him, then hung his body in a central Baghdad square, security officials said.

The incident was condemned by the protest movement in Tahrir Square, who said those who killed the gunman were not part of their peaceful demonstrations.

Officials said the gunman, who was wanted on drug-related charges, was running from security forces and shot dead two shop owners, then four protesters near Wathba Square.

Enraged, some protesters overpowered him. Images circulated on social media of the man being kicked and beaten to death.

They strung his lifeless body up on a traffic pole as crowds documented the events on their phones.

Influential cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said that if those who killed the man were not identified within 48 hours, he would order his militia, Saraya Salam, to leave the square.

Members of Saraya Salam – or Peace Brigades – are in the square to protect protesters, who call them the “blue hats.”

At least eight people were wounded in the shooting, the officials said.

Protesters in Tahrir issued a statement denouncing the killing to distance their peaceful demonstrations from the violent incident.

“We can’t allow the image of our pure revolution to be distorted, so we declare that we are innocent as peaceful demonstrators to what happened this morning in Wathba Square,” they said.

Wathba Square is near Tahrir Square, the centre of the protest movement, and has been the scene of other recent violence.

At least 31 protesters were hurt on Wednesday when security forces fired tear gas to disperse them.

Violence by unknown groups have put protesters on edge, eroding the faith of many in the ability of state security forces to protect them.

Last Friday, 25 protesters were killed when unknown gunmen in pickup trucks opened fired in Khilani Square.

And knife attacks and abductions against protesters in Tahrir continued.

Protesters mainly blame Iran-backed militia groups for the attacks.

Local media put the death toll from the two months of anti-government protests at more than 500, saying some of those killed had been buried, rather than taken to a hospital, and were therefore not included in some counts.

After years of ineffectual governments, protesters are demanding a new administration that is effective and accountable, and can begin fixing the dire public services and build an economy that can solve the mass unemployment.

– Reporting by AP