The French news agency is reporting 22 protesters were killed and scores wounded in Iraq's southern Thi Qar province after security forces opened fire with live ammunition on crowds of mostly young protesters in the provincial capital of Nasiriyah.
The bloody shootings come in the wake of an attack on the Iranian consulate in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf Wednesday.
Amateur video showed security forces dressed in black charging the crowd as protesters screamed and others fell to the ground.
Amateur video on social media showed thick plumes of black smoke rising into the air along the banks of the Tigris River, outside of Nasiriyah. VOA could not independently confirm what was burning.
Outside of Nasiriyah, amateur video showed military forces dressed in army camouflage uniforms charging protesters amid heavy bursts of gunfire. Other video showed demonstrators picking the wounded from the ground and carrying them to trucks, tok-toks and other vehicles to take them to a hospital.
Iraqi journalist Ahmed Abdel Samad told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that the situation around Nasiriyah "took a turn for the worse after Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mehdi fired [regional security chief] General Jamil al-Shammari following a surprise visit to the city on Tuesday." "Most of Thi Qar province," he told the TV channel, "is now under the control of protesters."
Arab media also reported casualties in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, as security forces fired on protesters there.
Analyst Fadel Abou Ragheef told al-Arabiya TV that "the situation continues to deteriorate across the country despite unprecedented concessions by the government, which appear to have done little to appease the protesters."
The violence Thursday followed an attack on the Iranian consulate in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, in which protesters torched the building. The Iranian consulate in Karbala was attacked less than a month ago and portions of its exterior wall were set on fire. Iran's government spokesman accused "foreign powers" of the attack on its consulate.