The Iraqi army admitted for the first time on Monday that it had used "excessive force" in almost a week of deadly protests, as paramilitary units said they were ready to back the government.
More than 100 people were killed and several thousand were injured in demonstrations that turned into violence, and witnesses reported that security forces used water cannons, tear gas and live shooting.
On Sunday night, a massive protest in the city of Sadr, in eastern Baghdad, led to clashes that, according to doctors and security forces, left 13 dead.
In the videos distributed on social networks, protesters crouched in the streets full of burning tires could be seen while listening to a gunshot discharge and suspected heavy weapons.
"Excessive force was used outside the rules of confrontation and we have begun to hold the commanders responsible for carrying out these wrong acts," the army said.
He said Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi had ordered those forces to be replaced by federal police units and intelligence services to open an investigation into the incident.
It was the first time since protests broke out that security forces recognized the use of disproportionate measures, after the prime minister insisted that they had been acting "within international standards" in dealing with the demonstrations.
Throughout Baghdad on Monday morning, as in several southern cities, the streets were reopening and no protests could be seen, although protesters generally meet late in the afternoon.
Promises of reform
Sadr City, a part of the densely populated and impoverished capital, is a bastion of the fire brand clerk Moqtada Sadr who has backed the protests by asking the Abdel Mahdi government to resign.
But the prime minister at war announced a series of reforms to create jobs, boost social welfare and expel corrupt officials.
He has accused the "saboteurs" of infiltrating the protests, a claim echoed by Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful network of mostly Shi'ite pro-Iranian paramilitary units.
"We know who supports these protests. The plan to overthrow the regime has failed," chief Faleh al-Fayyadh told reporters in Baghdad.
He said his forces would support actions against corrupt institutions but not "the fall of the regime," a song that has appeared more prominently in the protests of recent days.
"Those who wanted to defame Iraq will be punished," Fayyadh said, adding that his forces were "ready for any government order."
His words echoed a statement made on Monday morning by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who accused the "enemies" of trying to open a gap between Tehran and Baghdad.
"The enemies seek to sow discord, but they have failed and their conspiracy will not be effective," Khamenei said in his office's Twitter account.
Iran has urged its citizens who plan to participate in a major Shiite pilgrimage in Iraq to delay their trip to the country because of violence.
Baghdad has close but complicated ties with Tehran, which enjoys significant influence among its Shia political groups, but is also an ally of Washington.
On Monday, Abdel Mahdi said he discussed recent events and reform plans in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo without providing further details.
And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov landed in Baghdad to meet with senior officials.