Anti-government protest in Baghdad
Anti-government protest in BaghdadReuters

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Wednesday night declared a curfew in Baghdad until further notice after at least seven people were killed and more than 400 were injured during two days of nationwide anti-government protests, Reuters reports.

Curfews were imposed earlier in three southern cities while elite counter-terrorism troops opened fire on protesters trying to storm Baghdad airport and deployed to the southern city of Nassiriya after gunfights broke out between protesters and security forces, according to the report.

"All vehicles and individuals are totally forbidden to move in Baghdad as of 5:00 a.m. today, Thursday, and until further notice," Abdul Mahdi said in a written statement.

Travellers to and from Baghdad airport, ambulances, government employees in hospitals, electricity, and water departments, and religious pilgrims are exempt from the curfew, the statement said. It was up to provincial governors to decide whether to declare curfews elsewhere.

Curfews were imposed in Nassiriya, Amara and Hilla as protests that began on Tuesday over unemployment, corruption and poor public services escalated.

Demands on Wednesday included the "fall of the regime" and protesters set government and political party buildings ablaze in two other southern provinces, according to Reuters.

The slogan, "the people demand the fall of the regime," was popularized during the 2011 uprisings known as the “Arab Spring”.

Five people were killed on Wednesday and more than 200 were wounded in renewed clashes nationwide, the largest display of public anger against Abdul Mahdi's year-old government. Two were killed on Tuesday.

The five deaths on Wednesday included two protesters killed in Nassiriya. An Interior Ministry spokesman said a child was killed when a protester threw a gasoline-filled bottle at a vehicle carrying civilians in Baghdad, and a protester was killed in Amara. The fifth death was that of a protester who died from wounds sustained on Tuesday.

Police and the army opened fire and launched tear gas canisters to disperse hundreds of protesters in Baghdad. Protesters blocked the main highway connecting the capital to Iraq's northern provinces.

Domestic instability coupled with regional tensions could prove to be the final nail in the coffin of Abdul Mahdi's coalition, sworn in as a compromise between rival factions after an inconclusive election.