Dozens of Iraqis are confirmed dead after a week of protests were met with violence from police forces.
At issue according to protesters is rampant corruption in government and high unemployment rates in the country.
“I came out to the streets to ask for reform in my country and to find salvation from the mafias who have stolen my country and was greeted brutally by the security forces,” one 34-year-old demonstrator told the Times after being wounded by police.
“We are peaceful protesters, but the security forces treated us with brutality, as if we were animals, not humans demanding our rights,” he added.
Iraq’s highest Shi’ite cleric urged protesters to remain nonviolent in his sermon delivered through an aide Friday, while placing blame on the country’s federal government.
“The government and the political sides have not fulfilled the demands of the people to fight corruption,” Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said, according to the AP.
“It is sorrowful that there have been so many deaths, casualties and destruction,” he reportedly added. “The government and political sides have not answered the demands of the people to fight corruption or achieved anything on the ground. Parliament holds the biggest responsibility for what is happening.”
In a televised address Friday, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi called on protesters to return home.
“The security measures we are taking, including temporary curfew, are difficult choices. But like bitter medicine, they are inevitable,” he said. “We have to return life to normal in all provinces and respect the law.”