Protests continued in Iraq on Friday after the judiciary opened an investigation into protests in the restive southern province of Dhi Qar, where tens of protesters have been killed over two days of violence.

Thousands of demonstrators were reported flocking to Baghdad's Tahrir Square, with protests continuing in the southern city of Nasiriyah on Friday afternoon.

The Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq announced the formation of a body to investigate the killing of protesters in Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar province, over the last two days.

After the announcement, tribes in Nasiriyah demanded the trial of Jamil al-Shammari for his alleged role in the killing of protesters in the area, reported an Al Arabiya source.

Renewed clashes also reportedly broke out in front of the police command for Dhi Qar province.

At least 27 protesters were killed and 152 injured in yesterday’s clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Nasiriyah, as southern Iraq and the capital Baghdad descend into violence.

Protesters had burned the Iranian consulate in Najaf on Wednesday night. Iraqi security forces shot dead Iraqi at least 32 protesters at the site, Al Arabiya sources confirmed the following day.

Iraq announced it is setting up military-led ‘crisis cells’ aimed at quelling mass unrest according to a military statement.

 

Al-Sistani backs protesters

Iraq's top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned attacks on peaceful protesters, as demonstrations continued in Baghdad and Nasiriyah.

The country must not descend into strife, warned al-Sistani, adding that protesters should cooperate to expel saboteurs in their ranks and prevent them from exploiting demonstrations.

 

Death toll reaches 400: Reuters

A reuters count, based on police and medical sources, put the death toll from the protests at at least 408 as of Friday afternoon.

According to the count, at least 46 of those killed since October 1 were in Nasiriyah.

 

Activist assassinated

The activist Haidar al-Lami was assassinated by gunmen in Maysan province, according to reports from Iraqi media.

Twitter users said that Haidar led a convoy that supported the protests by providing food and services to the demonstrators.