Pope Francis laments violence against Iraqi protesters

Iraqi protestors remembering the dead during protests

As violence against protesters escalates in Iraq, Pope Francis expresses his concern and sadness over the death of more than 400 people during the last two months.

At the Angelus prayer on Sunday, the Pope said he is following developments in Iraq “with concern.”

“I was saddened to learn that the protests in recent days have been dealt with harshly, leading to the death of dozens of victims,” he said.

Pope Francis promised his prayers for the victims and his spiritual closeness to their families and all Iraqis.

He also invoked “peace and harmony from God.”

Violent crackdown

Two months of unrest have roiled Iraq, especially in the capital Baghdad and the mainly-Shia south. The protests have come in waves, with the most recent heating up last week.

Security forces and local militias have used live ammunition to drive back demonstrators, killing dozens of people.

Over 400 Iraqis have lost their lives in the protests.

Failed attempt to calm anger

Prime Minister Abel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation on Friday, after the country’s senior Shia cleric withdrew his support.

His bid to calm public anger failed, as protesters continued to rally on Saturday.

Analysts say young, Shi’ite protesters feel Iraq’s government and their Iranian backers of have squandered the country’s vast oil wealth, leaving increasing numbers of citizens unemployed and poor.