Iraqi authorities intensifies violent campaign against protesters


Iraqi authorities have ramped up violent tactics to quash ongoing protests in Iraq, with security forces setting fire to protesters’ tents, firing live ammunition, and detaining protesters in Baghdad, Basra, and Nasriya, Human Rights Watch said on Friday, January 31.

The international rights group was unable to determine the extent of casualties or numbers detained.

“The burning of protester tents in city squares looks like a coordinated effort by Iraqi authorities to force peaceful protesters from public spaces,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of using unjustifiable force, Baghdad authorities should meet protesters’ demands by addressing rampant corruption and improving access to basic services and jobs.”

“Protesters have the right to peacefully occupy public spaces and make demands of the government. The last few days show the grave consequences that can follow when the government is not willing to respect that right,” Wille.

According to the UN, since protests began on October 01, 2019, at least 467 protesters have been killed and over 9,000 have been wounded, while Iraq High Commission for Human Rights said security forces have arrested at least 2,633 others, most of whom were promptly released.

The commission said that between January 20 and 22, security forces in Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, DhiQar, and Karbala have killed at least 10 protesters, wounded another 127, and detained 88. The commission said that 24 security forces have also been injured.

The authorities’ campaign to end the occupation of the squares began on January 25, the day after the supporters of Moqtada el-Sadr, a prominent cleric, left the protests in the squares.

Authorities launched what appeared to be a coordinated campaign to end protesters’ occupation of central squares in Baghdad, Basra, and Nasriya.

Witnesses described how armed men in unmarked uniforms arrived in vehicles typically used by security forces and attacked protesters, beating and detaining people and burning their tents. Seven protesters said that in all three cities they have since returned to the squares and set up new tents.

Human Rights Watch said the Iraqi authorities should investigate every death at the hands of security forces with the help of international experts if necessary. Such investigations should be prompt, impartial, and independent, and lead to the prosecution of anyone found to have broken the law governing use of force, including commanders.

International standards provide that law enforcement officers may only intentionally make lethal use of firearms when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

Given that security forces have killed hundreds of people, many apparently unlawfully, since protests erupted in October 2019, countries that provide military and law enforcement training and support to Iraq, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Iran should end such assistance until Iraqi authorities take effective action to stop all unlawful killings and hold those responsible to account.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva should hold a special session into the killings of protesters in Iraq. (Source: HRW)