BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen in civilian cars opened fire on protesters in central Baghdad's Khilani Square, killing 12 people and wounding others, Iraqi officials said.

There were conflicting reports about the death toll, as the Associated Press quoted Iraqi officials that the number reached 12 dead, while the Anatolia news agency quoted security and medical sources that the attackers killed 11 people, while Reuters said the number reached eight dead.

In addition to the dead, more than 20 people were wounded near Tahrir Square, the main protest site in the Iraqi capital.

Protests calling for fighting corruption, improving services and providing jobs for the unemployed continued on Friday.

Crowds of protesters flocked to Baghdad and southern cities in support of weeks of popular movement.

No external interference
For its part, called on the Supreme Shiite authority in Iraq to choose the new prime minister and its members away from any external interference.

During the Friday sermon, Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, a representative of the Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani, said, "We hope that the new prime minister and its members will be chosen within the constitutional period and according to the aspirations of citizens, away from any external interference."

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He added that "the religious authority is not a party to any talk in this regard and has no role in any way."

The Marja warned of "those who lurk in the country and seek to exploit the protests demanding reform to achieve certain objectives, undermine the higher interests of the Iraqi people," without further clarification.

Since early October, there have been demonstrations in Iraq demanding political reform, holding corrupt people accountable and providing jobs. Violent clashes between security forces and protesters killed more than 400 people and injured thousands more.

Ali al-Bayati, a member of the Council of the Independent High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq, said that the total number of victims in the demonstrations since its inception reached 460 dead and more than 20,000 injured.

He added that the number of detainees reached 2,650 detainees, most of whom were released, but about 160 are still in detention.