Unidentified armed forces, on December 06, apparently in cooperation with Iraqi national and local security forces carried out a brutal spate of killings in Baghdad’s main protest area. It resulted to an estimated 29 to 80 deaths and 137 injuries, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
Electricity to the area was cut during the attack, making it harder for protesters to identify the killers and flee to safety.
It was also observed that police and military forces withdrew from the area before the unidentified militia, some in uniforms, began shooting.
The killings come three months into protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq, in which the death toll has reached 511 people, according to the Ministry of Health.
Five witnesses to the killings told Human Rights Watch by phone that on December 06 about 1,000 protesters were present in Baghdad’s al-Khilani Square, 600 meters north of Tahrir Square, and in al-Senak Garage, a five-story parking garage just off al-Khilani Square they had been occupying since November 16.
At about 7:30 p.m., they said they saw seven pickup trucks speed into al-Khilani Square and slow down. As the vehicles drove through the square slowly, gunmen in plain black uniforms and civilian clothes opened fire with AK-47s and PK machine guns above the protesters, before lowering and firing directly at them. At the time, the witnesses said the protesters gathered peacefully and not threatening any violent acts.
The witnesses said they saw about two dozen Federal Police and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), who were manning two checkpoints in the square, leave by car as the gunmen arrived. Some nine hours later, at 4:30 a.m. on December 07, the armed men left, they said, and within a few minutes security forces returned.
Electricity to al-Khilani Square and al-Senak garage went out for about an hour as the shooting began, the witnesses said, and to Tahrir Square for a few minutes, putting out streetlights. “All we could see was light coming from the bullets,” one said. The electricity directly next to the squares stayed on.
After shooting people in the square, the men in the pickup trucks drove to al-Senak garage, the witnesses said.
A protester said he was on the first floor of the garage with about 150 other protesters when he first heard shots ring out. Then he saw about 30 men in civilian dress carrying machetes and sticks storm the building. A few minutes later he saw five pickup trucks pull up outside, and men in black uniforms enter carrying guns. As he ran down the stairs and out of the building, he said he saw armed men open fire on protesters inside the building and stabs others. He saw at least seven protesters wounded.
Human Rights Watch reviewed 11 videos from that night, which appeared to substantiate many aspects of the witnesses’ accounts.
According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, the attack killed at least 9 protesters and wounded another 85 civilians.
However, a reliable source from the Baghdad medical community, who has monitored the number of dead and wounded across the city’s hospitals, had confirmed at least 29 people killed in the attack, from stabbing and bullet wounds, and another 137 injured.
A major in the army medical corps told The Times of London that as many as 80 or 85 might have been killed. (Source: HRW)