Iraqi forces’ use of deadly tear gas grenades at protesters questioned


Human rights organization Amnesty International calls for Iraqi authorities to immediately stop its anti-riot police and other security forces in Baghdad from using two previously unseen types of tear gas grenade that kills rather than disperse protesters, after its investigation found they caused at least five protester deaths in as many days.

Amnesty International has discovered, verified and geo-located several online videos filmed between October 25 and 29 in areas near central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, a focal point of the protests, the types of tear gas grenades being used as two variants from Bulgaria and Serbia that are modelled on military grenades and are up to 10 times as heavy as standard tear gas canisters, resulting in horrific injuries and death when fired directly at protesters.

The organization’s Digital Verification Corps has analyzed video evidence from near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square documenting the fatalities and injuries – including charred flesh and “smoking” head wounds.

The rights group also conducted telephone and email interviews with numerous eyewitnesses, reviewed medical records and consulted medical professionals in Baghdad, as well as an independent forensic pathologist about the horrific injuries caused by these grenades since October 25.

Amnesty International received CAT-scan imagery from medical workers in Baghdad. The imagery, which Amnesty has verified, confirms deaths caused by severe head trauma. The horrific injuries in all of these images are caused by entire grenades embedded in the victims’ skulls.

Speaking to Amnesty International on condition of anonymity, a medical worker at a hospital close to Tahrir Square to which the majority of victims with head trauma were taken, reported that the facility had received “six to seven head injuries per day since Friday [25 October]”. “Of those, five had metal projectiles or canister[s]lodged into their skulls”. The medical worker said that they had never seen such injuries in such frequency before.

CAT of a protester’s skull in Iraq shared by medical professionals with Amnesty International. (Photo source: Amnesty International)

Military experts contacted by Amnesty International confirmed, two models of grenade are responsible for these injuries: Serbian 40mm M99s, manufactured by Balkan Novotech, and 40mm LV CS grenades, likely manufactured by Bulgarian company Arsenal.

Unlike most tear gas grenades used by police forces around the world, these two types are modelled after offensive military grenades designed for combat. Research by Amnesty International has found that due to their weight and construction they are far more hazardous to protesters.

A typical 37mm police-style tear gas grenade weighs between 25 and 50 grams, and consists of several smaller canisters that separate and spread out over an area. In contrast, the Serbian and Bulgarian 40mm military-style grenades documented in Baghdad consist of a single heavy slug and are between five and 10 times heavier, weighing 220 to 250 grams.

“As both the police and military grenades are fired with a similar muzzle velocity, meaning they travel through the air at the same speed, the grenades that weigh 10 times as much deliver 10 times the force when they strike a protester. This is why they have caused such horrific injuries,” said Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser on Arms and Military Operations.

All less-lethal weapons can kill when used incorrectly. And tear gas canisters should never be fired directly at people, added Castner.

However, all experts interviewed by Amnesty International – including military and policing experts, medical doctors, and forensic pathologists – agree that both the number of deaths and horrific nature of the injuries from the point-blank firing of these heavy 40mm tear gas grenades is unprecedented.

“Any less-lethal weapon designed for crowd control can be deadly if deployed incorrectly. But what we’ve documented with these grenades in Baghdad goes far beyond misuse of a ‘safer’ weapon – the very design of the grenades being used is maximizing the horrific injuries and death,” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.

“Iraq’s police force must recall them from use immediately. There must be an independent and impartial investigation into their use and into other cases of unlawful killings and injuries during the protests,” said Maalouf. (Source: Amnesty International)