At least 21 people have been reported killed and hundreds have been wounded since the violence and clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators first erupted on Tuesday.
Iraqi security forces fired live rounds on Thursday to break up protests held for a third day in Baghdad despite an open-ended curfew in effect since dawn.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi ordered the ban on movements across the capital starting at 5:00 am to stem the popular demonstrations over widespread unemployment and state corruption.
Twelve people were killed late Wednesday in the southern cities of Nasriyah, Kut, and Amara. The dead were protesters and one policeman, according to security officials.
Iraq’s state news agency said Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi invited representatives of the protesters to come to the parliament building to discuss their demands.
On Thursday morning, riot police fired in the air to disperse several dozen protesters gathered in the emblematic Tahrir Square in defiance of the curfew, an AFP photographer said.
Tensions have been exacerbated by a near-total internet blackout, the closure of government offices in Baghdad and calls by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for “a general strike.”
Before dawn twin explosions hit the Green Zone, where some ministries and embassies are located and which was struck by two rockets last week, a security source in the area told AFP.
The apparent attack came hours after security forces sealed off the Green Zone “until further notice” just a few months after it was reopened to the public, fearing angry protesters would swarm it.
Overnight, two protesters were killed in the southern city of Kut after they tried to storm a local government office, medics and security sources told AFP.
Another two demonstrators died further south in Nasiriyah, which has so far seen the deadliest protests with a total of eight protesters and one police officer killed.
And two have died in clashes in Baghdad, bringing the nationwide toll in the protests since Tuesday to 13 dead and more than 400 wounded, according to health authorities.
Riot police in the capital have used water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds in an attempt to force protesters out of Tahrir and other areas in Baghdad.