Talks in Iraq capital as violence hits shrine cities
NAJAF, Iraq: Iraq's politicians gathered in Baghdad on Tuesday (Dec 3) to discuss a way out of two months of protests that brought down the previous government, as violence hit two Shiite shrine cities.
In Najaf, seat of Iraq's Shiite religious leadership, anti-government demonstrators gathered late into the night around the tomb of a cleric who founded a Shiite party, an AFP correspondent reported.
Armed men in civilian clothes who were guarding the tomb were seen firing shotguns and tear gas at protesters, but medics could not provide an immediate casualty toll.
It is part of a larger complex that has been surrounded for days by demonstrators denouncing the rule of an entrenched political elite.
Najaf has been a flashpoint since protesters torched the Iranian consulate in the city last Wednesday, accusing Iraq's eastern neighbour of propping up a corrupt government in Baghdad.
Around two dozen protesters have died since, and the governor has called on the central government to put an end to the violence.
Influential tribal dignitaries have also tried to mediate and on Tuesday they called on populist cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) to intervene, according to a statement by Sadr's office.
He has yet to respond.
Sadr was a key sponsor of outgoing prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi after having won the lion's share of seats in parliament in a May 2018 general election.
But he backed the protests early on and instructed his fighters to "protect" demonstrators from security forces.
In the shrine city of Karbala, renewed street clashes between protesters and security forces raged late into the night, an AFP correspondent reported.
Riot police fired live rounds and tear gas at the crowds.