Death toll rises in Iraq as security forces resume deadly campaign against protesters


Iraqi security forces have resumed their campaign of deadly violence against largely peaceful protesters in Baghdad and other cities in southern Iraq, eyewitness testimonies and verified video analysis by Amnesty International have shown.

From January 20-23, at least 10 people were killed in Baghdad, Basra, Karbala and Diyala, according to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights. Activists in Basra reported two additional deaths on January 22. Scores have been injured and arrested, with some subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab verified videos from several flashpoints in recent days, confirming live ammunition is once again being used against unarmed protesters, and the first use of deadly military-grade tear gas grenades observed since November 2019.

“This worrying evidence signals that the Iraqi security forces have resumed their lethal campaign of repression against protesters who are simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly. This latest escalation is a clear indication that the Iraqi authorities have no intention whatsoever to genuinely put an end to these grave violations,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“The use of lethal force to silence dissent must stop immediately. The authorities have had months to change course away from violent repression. Protesters have a right to expect that the security forces protect – not arbitrarily kill and maim – them,” she added.

Men interviewed by Amnesty International described chilling scenes on January 21 along the Mohammed al-Qasim highway overpass in Baghdad, around 1.2 km north-east of Tahrir Square, a focal point of the protests since October.

One of the men described what happened when security forces intervened: “[Three protesters] died because they were shot in the head. Some of the protesters were on the highway, there were clashes with the security forces. Security forces used live ammunition against protesters to disperse them from the highway, and in some cases, they grabbed protesters by their arms and threw them off the overpass. The highway is about five to seven metres above the ground.”

Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab has geolocated and verified multiple videos depicting some of the events along the highway overpass on January 21. One of the videos clearly shows multiple vehicles with the logo of an elite SWAT team that reports to the Prime Minister.

Several videos from the Mohammed al-Qasim highway overpass show masked, uniformed men launching tear gas grenades directly at protesters’ heads at close range on January 21. Amnesty International previously documented how this tactic, using military-grade tear gas and smoke grenades manufactured in Iran and Serbia, killed dozens of protesters in October and November.

Disturbingly, an Iraqi photographer captured one of the assailants on video doing what appears to be a victory dance after firing at protesters below.

The organization viewed photographic evidence of serious wounds across the back of one protester, consistent with beatings that could amount to torture. A video emerged on social media, apparently filmed near Al-Maqal Police Directorate, in which detainees’ screams could be heard.

“This abhorrent pattern of deliberate killing, torture and repression must be stopped without delay,” Maalouf said.

“Thousands of Iraqis have been unlawfully killed, injured or arbitrarily detained over the past four months. The Iraqi authorities must urgently rein in the security forces, remove those responsible for serious violations and initiate thorough, independent investigations aimed at bringing accountability and redress for victims and their families. The world is watching and expects no less.” (Source: Amnesty Intl.)