BAGHDAD      -    Masked and black clad security forces fired barrages of pepper spray, tear gas and sound bombs into crowds of antigovernment protesters in a central Baghdad square for hours on Saturday evening, timing their assault at one point to a shutdown of electricity that left the area enveloped in darkness.

The demonstrators who gathered a day after dozens were killed in similar protests over joblessness, corruption and a lack of official accountability trampled each other in the dark as they retreated from Tahrir Square.

The extent of fatalities on Saturday was not immediately clear, but the overall death toll from the past two days stood at about 60, the Iraqi High Commission on Human Rights said.

The antigovernment demonstrations began in early October, pausing two weeks ago after security forces had killed nearly 150 protesters nationwide and then resuming again on Friday.

The protesters’ anger has been increasingly directed at political parties with ties to Iran and their militias. The militias are now part of the Iraqi security forces, but their origins, and sometimes their training, involve Iran.

The offices of some of those political parties and militias were vandalized or burned in the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq, prompting the government on Saturday to impose tough new restrictions on movements there.

In Tahrir Square, many protesters described the security forces firing at them as Iranian or from the Iranian political parties. “Iran Get Out, Get Out,” demonstrators chanted.

Maj. Gen. Takseen al-Khafaji, a spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, said the black clad and masked squads were Iraqis from a squad known as the Special Division, which is responsible for protecting the Green Zone.

But overall the government was silent on Saturday in response to the protesters and Parliament was unable to muster a quorum so it delayed even discussing the situation.

The protesters’ anger has been increasingly directed at Iraqi political parties and armed groups with ties to Iran. The protesters’ anger has been increasingly directed at Iraqi political parties and armed groups with ties to Iran.Credit...Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Iraq has lurched from one crisis to another over the last 16 years since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Almost immediately, the Shiite-majority country faced a disenfranchised Sunni minority and some of those Sunnis formed the Al Qaeda insurgency in Iraq. At the time, both the U.S. and Iran maintained a presence in Iraq and were attempting to influence the country’s politics.