Iraqi authorities trying to quell an anti-government uprising reportedly cut off Internet access for nearly all of Baghdad and the southern part of the country Tuesday as the latest wave of protests resulted in at least three deaths.
Netblocks, a group that monitors worldwide Internet access, said that a major shutdown overnight sent usage levels plummeting to 19 percent of their normal amount in Baghdad and southern Iraq. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Internet there was partially restored, it added, but "some networks are still offline and social media and messaging apps remain blocked or degraded."
The move comes after Iraqi officials shut down Internet access and blocked social media sites on a number of occasions during protests in October – but this instance is the most severe yet, Netblocks says.
Elsewhere in Iraq Tuesday, three protesters were killed in clashes with security forces.
In Umm Qasr, an oil terminal on the Persian Gulf, demonstrators seized an armored vehicle during skirmishes with troops, who have been responding by firing live ammunition and tear gas, security and medical officials say. One person was killed and eight more were injured in those incidents.
The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights also said two people were killed and 23 wounded in clashes in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
“Appalled by continued bloodshed in Iraq. People’s high frustration not to be underestimated or misread,” Jeanine Hennis, a U.N. Iraq envoy, had tweeted Monday. “Violence only begets violence, peaceful demonstrators must be protected. It is high time for national dialogue.”
Iraq has seen massive anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad and across the mostly Shiite south since Oct. 25. The protests are calling for an overhaul of the political system established after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, accusing the government and major political parties of corruption and incompetence.
Protesters have been complaining of high unemployment and poor public services. Despite Iraq having the world's fourth-largest proven oil reserves, Baghdad and other cities still suffer frequent power cuts and the tap water in many areas is undrinkable.
Security forces so far have killed at least 267 demonstrators since the protests began.
In southern Iraq, protesters have ransacked and torched the offices of political parties linked to Iran, and on Sunday night they attacked the Iranian Consulate in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has expressed support for the protesters' demands and condemned violence on all sides while resisting calls to step down. He has called on the protesters to reopen roads so that life can return to normal, saying the disruptions caused by the protests are costing the country billions of dollars.
He met with senior judicial and security officials at the Federal Police Headquarters late Monday to discuss ways to restore stability while preserving the right to protest and to protect private property, according to a government statement.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iraq's government should listen to the protesters' "legitimate demands."
The Associated Press contributed to this report