An Iraqi journalist and his cameraman have been shot dead in their car by unknown gunmen after reporting on anti-regime demonstrations.
Ahmed Abdel Samad, a correspondent for Dilja TV, and cameraman Safaa Ghali were 'assassinated' in the southern city of Basra, the US Embassy in Baghdad confirmed.
Just hours before his death on Friday, Mr Samad had posted a video condemning the Iraqi forces for their brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests while permitting those outside the US embassy earlier this month.
Footage on Dilja TV's website showed Mr Samad slumped in the passenger seat with a bullet wound to the right side of his head and bullet holes through the car door.
Mr Samad died at the scene while Mr Ghali later died in hospital.
The US Embassy said it 'strongly denounced the deplorable and cowardly assassination.'
The statement added that it was the Iraqi government's responsibility to uphold 'the right to freedom of expression, protecting journalists, and ensuring that peaceful activists can practice their democratic rights without fear of reprisal.'
Hundreds gathered in the streets to mourn the loss of the journalist and cameraman on Saturday amid angry anti-regime demonstrations which have been going on for months.
Factions within Iraq's security forces, mostly Iran-backed militia, have been accused of killing some 500 protesters since the unrest started, with another 19,000 wounded.
It comes as Iraq's caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, asked Washington to set a strategy for American troops withdrawal on Friday.
The US State Department bluntly rejected the request, saying the two sides should instead talk about how to 'recommit' to their partnership.
There are some 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq assisting and providing training to Iraqi security counterparts to fight IS. An American pullout could deeply set back efforts to crush remnants of the group amid concerns of its resurgence during the political turmoil.
Iraq is highly dependent on Iran sanctions waivers from Washington to continue importing Iranian gas to meet electricity demands, and the U.S. has consistently used this as leverage.
The current waiver expires in February, and without a new one, Iraq could face severe financial penalties.
The demand for a troop withdrawal is not universal among Iraqis. Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers, who oppose the Parliament resolution, see the U.S. presence as a bulwark against domination by the majority Shiites and Iran. Kurdish security forces have benefited from U.S. training and aid.
Protesters criticised the ongoing crisis involving Iraq, the U.S. and Iran in demonstrations across the capital and in the southern provinces.
Thousands massed in Baghdad's Tahrir square, the epicenter of the protest movement, and many chanted 'Damn Iran and America!'
Large demonstrations also were held in Basra, Dhi Qar, Najaf and Diwanieh provinces as the movement seeks to regain momentum after regional tensions overshadowed the uprising.
It was amid the protests in Basra that Mr Samad and Mr Ghali were shot in their car.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.