CAIRO - Iraqi protesters took to the streets of at least half a dozen major towns and cities Monday, clashing with security forces in Baghdad, Nassiriya and Basra, while blocking roads in Karbala, Najaf, Hilla and Kut. United Nations envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, also met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, urging reforms and an end to violence against protesters.
Hundreds of protesters chanted slogans against Iran and its Shi'ite proxy militias Monday in Nassiriya, while blocking three major bridges in the city. Large protests were also reported in the capitals of Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Kut.
Iraqi military spokesman Gen. Abdel Karim Khalaf told a press conference that most Iraqi protesters are peaceful but that violent groups have infiltrated the protests, claiming that they had used live ammunition against security forces in Baghdad and set fire to at least three government buildings.
He says that there is a difference between the peaceful protesters in (Baghdad's) Tahrir Square and those who are blocking roads and bridges. Blocking roads and bridges, he insists, is a crime, even if the government is trying not to use force or inflict casualties.
Despite Khalaf's claim, Arab media showed amateur video of a teenage protester being shot while filming demonstrations in Nassiriya. It was not clear if he survived.
Khalaf claimed the foreign press is being unfair in criticizing Iraq over its use of force, saying that countries "like France and the U.S. use force when facing security threats." He also claimed that (outside parties) are "using the internet to try and overthrow the government."
Iraqi media reported that the U.N.'s top envoy, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, met Shi'ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani Monday, urging Iraqi political leaders to carry out reforms that "meet the demands of protesters."
Iraqi TV showed Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mehdi meeting with journalists Monday, telling them that economic reforms are a priority, including increasing revenues from non-oil sources and creating jobs not funded by the government.
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that "Iraqi Shiites are rediscovering that they are Arab," as they protest "against Iran's meddling in their country."
Dr. Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University, argues that "some Shi'ites in Iraq "toe the Iranian line, [while] others do not. The lines between these groups," he says, "seems to be hardening," and "Iran and its proxies are making the situation much worse."