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Iraq security forces accused of protest massacres

December 17, 2019 at 1:46 pm

A picture taken on November 9, 2019, shows a Iraq security forces standing guard outside a government building during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in the southern city of Basra. – Seven protesters were killed in Iraq as security forces cleared protest sites in Baghdad and Basra after political leaders agreed to stand by the embattled government by any means. (Photo by Hussein FALEH / AFP) (Photo by HUSSEIN FALEH/AFP via Getty Images)

Iraq and its security forces have been accused of committing a series of massacres against protesters in the capital Baghdad by the UK-based Human Rights Watch.

In particular, the Iraqi authorities are alleged to have used unidentified armed militias in the killings.

In a report released today, HRW revealed that much of the killing of protesters took place in the main protest area of Baghdad, namely Tahrir Square, on 6 December; estimates of the death toll range between 29 and 80 people, while 137 have been wounded.

During the attack, it reported, electricity was cut in order to make it difficult to identify the forces who were firing.

The identity of the killers was this a key point in the investigation into the massacres. It was discovered that as the police and troops who were controlling the protests withdrew, an “unidentified militia, some in uniforms, began shooting.”

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HRW has called on the international community – particularly countries which provide training to Iraq’s military and police such as the US, Britain and Iran – to “end such assistance until the authorities take effective action to stop the killings and hold abusers to account.”

It has also called on the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to “hold a special session into the killings of protesters in Iraq.”

The Middle East director of HRW was quoted in the report as stating: “The US, UK and Iran can’t have it both ways, calling on the Iraqi government to respect the rights of protesters while supporting the Iraqi forces killing protesters or standing by… With killings of protesters continuing day after day, they should end this support.”

The investigation by HRW and its findings come amid three months of protests across Baghdad and southern Iraq.

The brutal crackdown by government forces and pro-Iran militias affiliated with them have resulted in the killing of approximately 511 people, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

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The militias have had a presence in the country since the 2003 US invasion. They have wide support from religious figures as well as the Iraqi government and operate within the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), the umbrella group of mainly Shia militias formed, backed and funded by Iran. The PMU are now tied officially to the Iraqi government and its security forces.

These militias have long been controversial in Iraq and the region as a whole, as they have been identified as a tool of the expansion of Iran’s sphere of influence due to their allegiance to the leadership in Tehran and its ideology, and their presence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Regional rivals of Iran such as Israel, as well as the US and its Gulf allies, have become increasingly concerned about the pro-Iranian militias over the past few years in particular. As a result, they have resorted to sanctions and air strikes against militia fighters on the Syria-Iraq border.

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