At least 23 people were killed and several others injured on Saurday after unidentified assailants opened fire on anti-government protesters, according to sources.

Unidentified assailants opened fire on protesters on al-Khalani Square on Friday night, that also left hundreds of injured, according to source from the Iraqi Ministry.

The attackers entered the area in a convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles and shot at those gathered for the demo.

Al-Khalani is located next to a multi-story parking garage that has been occupied by protesters since the movement kicked off two months ago.

It is also close to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the movement that has already forced the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

The incident, which came after a period of calm, raised fears of more armed attacks targeting protesters who have been cracked down on by security forces who have employed live ammunition.

In the early hours of the day, soldiers were deployed to al-Khalani Square and nearby al-Senk Bridge, but they retreated as more and more protesters flocked to the area.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh denounced the “armed criminal attack of criminal gangs,” whom he did not name.

He also stressed “the legitimate right of any citizen to protest and demonstrate peacefully,” without being exposed to “armed and violent reaction.”

“The responsibility of the state security apparatus, in addition to protecting peaceful protesters and public and private property, and preserving the lives of Iraqis, is to prosecute and arrest criminals and criminals, and bring them to justice,” he added.

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert also denounced the attack.

“The deliberate killing of unarmed protesters by armed elements is nothing less than an atrocity against the people of Iraq,” she said in a statement.

In October, thousands of protesters took to the street to protests to demand jobs and better public services in Iraq.

Protesters, most of them young people, waved Iraqi flags and chanted slogans such as “They are all thieves,” apparently referring to the country’s political class.

Earlier, an IHCHR statement said that the demonstrators in Wasit Province burned the Islamic Dawa Party headquarters and stormed the house of the governor in the province, while in the southern province of Dhi Qar, protesters burned the provincial government building.

(With inputs from agency)