Iraqi officials raise Dec 6's toll to 25 protesters killed

Iraqi supporters of the Hashed Al Shaabi armed network demonstrate in Baghdad's Tahrir Square

The protests lead to a number of clashes with security forces, who used live fire, sonic bombs and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

"According to the United Nations, over 400 Iraqis have been killed, who are protesting for better governance and a brighter future", stated Assistant Secretary David Schenker.

A string of mysterious knife attacks against anti-government protesters also occurred on Thursday in the square, after supporters of the Iran-backed militias attempted their own rival demonstration before withdrawing.

Schenker said the sanctions, which freeze any USA assets held by the leaders and prohibit Americans from doing business with them, are "first and foremost symbolic" but also have a financial impact.

The United States on Friday announced sanctions on three Iranian-linked Iraqi militia leaders for allegedly assisting the crackdown on demonstrations that have swept the country.

Iraq has seen one of the worst flare-ups in weeks of anti-government protests, with gunmen killing at least 20 people in Baghdad early on Saturday.

The sanctions target Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq Iran-backed militia and his brother Laith al-Khazali, another leader of the group, according to a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department.

They were designated under a law that will seize any assets they have in the United States and ban them from visiting. Iran's allies have mostly dominated state institutions since then.

On Friday, Iraq's top Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani with strong influence over the majority sect in the country indirectly called for Iran not to meddle in Iraqi politics, after the prime minister resigned recently and parliament is set to choose a new government.

A Reuters report said Iranian officials including the powerful commander of its Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, stepped in to prevent Abdul Mahdi's resignation in October.

David Schenker, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, said that the Iranian commander's presence in Baghdad was "not normal".

"We are encouraging neighbors not to meddle and undermine the constitution of the country", he said.

The United States also says Iran has moved missiles into Iraq and has pointed the finger at Tehran over a rising number of sophisticated but non-lethal rocket attacks on USA bases.

James Jeffrey, the US special envoy to the global coalition fighting Islamic State, arrived in Baghdad on Thursday to meet with officials and discuss the fight against the militant group in Iraq and Syria, the State Department said in a statement on Friday.



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