Police and medics say Iraqi forces shot dead three anti-government protesters, adding to the hundreds killed in weeks of unrest, as a rights group warned a deadly crackdown could spiral into a "bloodbath."

A member of Iraqi security forces points his gun towards the demonstrators during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 10, 2019.
A member of Iraqi security forces points his gun towards the demonstrators during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 10, 2019. (Reuters)

Iraqi forces shot three anti-government protesters dead in the southern city of Nassiriya on Sunday, police and medics said, adding to scores killed in weeks of unrest that have shaken the war-weary country out of relative stability it had enjoyed since the defeat of Daesh.

Protesters had gathered on a bridge in the city and security forces shot live ammunition to disperse them, the sources said. More than 100 other people were wounded in clashes in Nassiriya, they said.

Security forces also fired tear gas at demonstrators in Baghdad injuring more than 20 people, a day after they pushed protests back toward one main square in the Iraqi capital. 

One person died in hospital from wounds sustained the previous day in the same area, police and medics said.

"This is turning into nothing short of a bloodbath," said Amnesty International.

"All government promises of reforms or investigations ring hollow while security forces continue to shoot and kill protesters," said Amnesty's regional director Heba Morayef.

The violence shattered a day of relative calm. Unrest erupted in Baghdad on October 1 with protests over lack of jobs and services that spread across the capital and much of southern Iraq.

Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly young, unarmed protesters, killing more than 300 people.

In the first official toll in days, parliament's human rights committee said 319 people had been killed since protests first erupted, including demonstrators and security forces.

The committee said snipers were active near protest sites and hunting rifles were used against demonstrators as well.

'Wounded are coming in'

Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi's government has taken some measures to try to quell unrest including handouts to the poor and job opportunities for college graduates, but has failed to keep up with growing demands of demonstrators who are now calling for an overhaul of Iraq's sectarian political system and the departure of its entire ruling elite.

"They're (security forces) still shooting at people, wounded are coming in," volunteer medical worker Hayder Ghareeb said earlier in the day at a makeshift clinic in Tahrir Square, now the main gathering point for demonstrators in Baghdad.

Some of those hurt had choked on tear gas and been taken to hospital, medical sources said.

Police said late on Sunday that a car had exploded in an area under the control of security forces setting fire to several other vehicles parked next to it, with no casualties caused. 

Protesters fear that saboteurs might try to use the unrest to carry out attacks, which risks drawing a harsher crackdown by security forces, and the government has warned against the use of violence against state property or personnel.

Reforms gather pace

Under pressure from powerful Shia Muslim religious authorities, Abdul Mahdi has recently pledged more serious changes such as electoral reform and has recognised the legitimacy of peaceful protest.

Iraqi leaders agreed at a meeting in Baghdad on Sunday that imminent electoral reform should give a greater chance for youth to participate in politics and break a monopoly on power by political parties that have dominated state institutions since 2003, state media reported.

The unrest is one of the biggest and most complicated challenges to the current ruling elite since it took power after the deadly US invasion and toppling of former leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In northern Iraq on Sunday near the city of Kirkuk, an explosive device detonated hitting a vehicle carrying Italian special forces, injuring five soldiers, the Italian military said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies