BAGHDAD — Demonstrations turned violent for a second day in Iraq on Wednesday as thousands took to the streets in Baghdad and several cities in the provinces to protest poor public services and corruption.
The police used tear gas and rubber bullets, and there were reports of live fire by evening that had left two people dead. Between 100 and 200 demonstrators were being treated in Baghdad hospitals, according to the Ministry of Health.
Iraqis have held mass demonstrations for the last several years over the lack of basic services as well as government corruption. However, the demonstrations usually happen in summer, when electricity outages cause the greatest suffering from Iraq’s extreme heat, which routinely exceeds 115 degrees in the southern provinces.
The latest demonstrations, in much cooler temperatures, suggest the underlying grievances are as much about frustration with the government and unemployment as they are about the lack of services.
In Dhi Qar province, in southern Iraq, where demonstrators briefly seized provincial government buildings, one demonstrator, Mushtaq Radhi Salih, said that all people wanted was to express their opinions and to end the government’s seeming disregard for their needs.
“There is corruption and for 14 years there has been no electricity and no services and no water,” he said.
“We do not want the political parties, we want nothing from them, just give us a country, we just want a country to live in,” he beseeched anyone who would listen.
Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the chief gathering place used by demonstrators on Tuesday, was mostly cordoned off by the police on Wednesday.
The largest, most fervent and violent Baghdad protests on Wednesday were in the poor and working class neighborhoods of Sadr City and Al Amal city with protesters briefly blocking the road to the airport.
Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mehdi was holding a national security meeting after making a statement early Wednesday underscoring both his support for the protesters “legitimate concerns” and for the security forces who were trying to keep order.
He blamed “aggressive attackers” for turning the demonstrations into a face-off between security forces and demonstrators. He accused violent demonstrators of attacking security forces with knives and hand grenades, saying that they “threaten the general order and civil peace.”
After three demonstrators were killed on Tuesday by riot police officers who resorted to live fire, Mr. Mehdi ordered the security forces to refrain from the use of bullets. By nightfall on Wednesday, however, it seemed that some police officers may have ignored his instructions since at least two people were shot.
Officials in the prime minister’s office said the government had cut off the internet to hinder the use of social media by protesters. But it was not clear when or how widespread the shutdown would be.
The tone of the protests has veered between furious and violent attacks of government property to peaceful, even ecumenical, pleas for the government to respond to citizens’ needs. At dusk in Baghdad, some Sunni and Shia Muslims joined together in prayer.
Some demonstrators carried banners that seemed in keeping with Mr. Mehdi’s statement that both the police and the demonstrators were sons of Iraq. But some banners also appeared aimed at rallying the police to the side of the protesters.
One banner read: “Oh you soldier, do not open fire. I am your brother. Your mother and my mother cry the same tears. You fight for me and I demonstrate for you.”
In the central-southern city of Najaf, a man who worked as a government employee attributed the protests to “suffering from a shortage of everything.”
The police initially used tear gas and rubber bullets in Baghdad on Tuesday when the crowds began marching toward the international zone, which is the seat of government, but then officers resorted to live fire, killing three people. Many more were treated in Baghdad hospitals for injuries from rubber bullets and tear gas.