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Iraqi Christians Raise Up Images of Christ Amid Deadly Anti-Government Protests

Courtesy AP

JERUSALEM, Israel - At least 104 people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded in the six bloody days of unrest that have plagued Iraq.

On Monday, the Iraqi military claimed responsibility for some of the civilian deaths and acknowledged it used "excessive force" against unarmed protestors.

"Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts," the military said in a statement. 

The military contradicts a statement released by Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan who claimed in an address on Sunday that local security forces are not responsible for the slayings of protestors, and said an investigation is underway to uncover the "malicious hands" at fault.

Protesters and journalists on the ground say they witnessed security forces open firing on unarmed demonstrators to stop the uprising. Some protesters say snipers targeted civilians on Friday, the bloodiest day of unrest in Baghdad since the protests began on Tuesday.

Maan said in his address that most of the civilians who were killed were shot in the head or heart. Local hospitals are overflowing with injured Iraqis and many families are faced with the task of identifying their dead loved ones' bodies.

Embed video of Families of killed protesters identifying their loved ones at the Hospital

The mostly spontaneous demonstrations were started by young Iraqis who are protesting against widespread government corruption and a failing economy.

The bloody demonstrations are the first serious challenge in Iraq since troops declared victory against ISIS two years ago. The protests come at a sensitive time for Iraq because the oil-rich country is allied with both the US and Iran -- two countries who are playing a tense game of geopolitical chess in the Persian Gulf. Iraq hosts thousands of US troops, as well as powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

Many Iraqis are protesting Iran's influence in their country and videos are surfacing online of demonstrators tearing apart public images of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Meanwhile, Khamenei blamed the unrest on "enemies" trying to destroy the relationship between Baghdad and Tehran.

"Iran and Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together... Enemies seek to sow discord but they've failed & their conspiracy won't be effective," Khamenei said on Twitter.

Iranian-backed militias have pledged their support for the Iraqi government against the protestors.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi urged demonstrators to stay at home but that hasn't stopped frustrated civilians from flooding the streets of Baghdad and surrounding areas to demand a better life.

Some Iraqi Christians have joined the protests carrying images of Jesus and other biblical figures.

One video shows a protestor taking refuge in a church as security forces open fire on him.

Juliana Taimoorazy, Advocacy Fellow of the Philos Project and Founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council told CBN News that Iraqi Christians are just as concerned about their country's future as their fellow citizens.

"This is their country after all. This is their ancestral homeland as well so they are concerned about their own well-being and of course, the well-being of the whole country. They too suffer like the rest of the Iraqis from corruption in the government, lack of real leadership and basic living standards," Juliana Taimoorazy, Advocacy Fellow of the Philos Project and Founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council told CBN News.

"They have come under severe attack starting in 2003 for their faith and their ethnicity and they suffer alongside their Arab brethren and other minorities inside Iraq," she added.

Abdul-Mahdi released a series of proposals on Sunday designed to quell the outrage,  including plans to increase unemployment benefits and offer new business loans.

But the proposals did nothing to reduce tension or break the violent deadlock between the Iraqi government and its people.

"It has been 16 years of corruption and injustice," said Abbas Najm, a 43-year-old unemployed engineer who demonstrated Saturday in Tahrir Square. "We are not afraid of bullets or the death of martyrs. We will keep going and we won't back down."

Meanwhile, Iraqi Americans are calling on President Donald Trump to stop the violence against civilians. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging the US to intervene.

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