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Confusion surrounds Iraq protestors' lynching of teen in Baghdad

Haitham Ali Ismael, was stabbed up to 17 times, stripped of his clothes and hung by the ankles from a traffic light pole
Haitham Ali Ismael, was stabbed up to 17 times, stripped of his clothes and hung by the ankles from a traffic light pole in Baghdad, Iraq on 12 December 2019 [Twitter]

In a widely condemned incident in Baghdad's Al-Wathba Square, anti-government protestors lynched a 16-year-old boy believing him to have opened fire on protestors, when it has now surfaced that he fired a pistol into the air, to clear protestors away from his family's home.

The victim, identified as Haitham Ali Ismael, was stabbed up to 17 times, stripped of his clothes and hung by the ankles from a traffic light pole, his throat had also been slit. Many witnesses filmed the brutal display on their smartphones. Uniformed police could also be seen amidst the mob, and witnesses claim that police stood back as the mob attacked the youth.

Despite contradictory narratives amassing on Twitter, ranging from allegations that it was Iraqi security forces who stormed Ismael's home and killed him, to Ismael being a pro-government sniper, killing protestors thereby invoking the mob's wrath – it has now been reported that Ismael "had been berating the protesters for three days for obstructing the street beside his house and making noise, but he had been largely ignored." Yesterday, he is said to have climbed onto the roof of his home and began shooting in the air with a pistol. The protestors were under the impression that he had killed someone, and proceeded to attack him and storm his home.

The New York Times quoted one witness, Fadhil Muhammad, as stating that "unfortunately Haitham had been fighting with these guys for three days because of their shouting and gathering near his house, but I did not expect it to reach the point of killing him." Muhammad also disclosed that once he was thrown on the back of a pick-up truck, people began to slash the young victim's throat in the presence of police.

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One source who informed AsiaNews, suggested that those loitering outside Ismael's property were harassing female relatives, who reportedly stopped going out due to the harassment. The same source disclosed that "most protesters were not locals, but people from other provinces." Reportedly, Ismael had asked them not to burn tyres in front of his house, and to burn them further away instead, because it was making it hard for his family to breathe.

The incident was not without denunciation. "The presence of hundreds, if not thousands of citizens who stood still, filming and watching, is a dangerous development confirming the society's acceptance of violence," condemned Ali Al-Bayati, member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.

Furthermore, the extrajudicial execution drew condemnation from Iraq's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who issued a statement through his representative during today's sermon. "The gruesome murder and hanging of the victim is a crime, and the perpetrators must be held accountable," Al-Sistani denounced.

Iraq has been rocked by anti-government protests for over two months. More than 440 people have been killed since 1 October, according to Reuters. The unrest has continued despite Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, handing in his resignation. There has also been speculation that outside forces have infiltrated the peaceful protests, in a bid to steer them towards rioting and violence against the state.

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