The attack by masked shooters came during a fifth consecutive day of demonstrations protesting corruption, a lack of jobs and other matters, according to the AP. The news outlet reported that 240 people have been killed since the protests began earlier this month.
Tuesday’s shooting occurred in the city’s Education Square, where protesters had gathered for a sit-in. It’s unclear who was responsible for the deadly attack.
A senior security official told the AP that 25,000 protesters had demonstrated in Karbala, one of holiest places for Shiite Muslims, on Monday.
An eyewitness said hundreds of protesters were in the encampment when live bullets were fired toward them from a passing car. Then, masked gunmen in black plainclothes arrived and started shooting at the protesters, the witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety. Tents caught fire, igniting a blaze, he added.
Karbala, as Baghdad and other cities in Iraq’s southern region, has been gripped by a wave of deadly anti-government protests which have often turned violence, with security forces shooting at the protesters and protesters setting fire to government buildings and headquarters of Iran-backed militias.
The demonstrations are fueled by anger at corruption, economic stagnation and poor public services. Despite its vast oil wealth, Iraq suffers from high unemployment and crumbling infrastructure, with frequent power outages that force many to rely on private generators.
The protests have grown and demonstrators are now calling for sweeping changes, not just the government’s resignation. Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi has promised a government reshuffle and a reform package, which the demonstrators have already rejected.