ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A security guard at the office of a prominent Iranian-backed Shia militia in the city of Diwaniya shot and killed a protester on Friday as demonstrations against the government's failure to provide basic services continued to mount across southern and central Iraq.
“We received the body of a protester with a bullet wound to the head,” a doctor in a hospital in the city told Reuters.
Two additional people were reported wounded when a crowd gathered around the local headquarters of the Badr Organization and began throwing bricks and stones. The security guard was said to have been attempting to push protesters away from the building when the shooting occurred.
Shia militias known as the Hashd al-Shaabi or the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have enjoyed popular support in much of Iraq's central and southern regions since they were made part of the nation's official security apparatus as they joined in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in 2014.
A combination of this support and the fact that they have effective and often intimidating control of many areas has largely made them immune to hostilities of Iraqis fed up with poor living conditions. As the protests began in Basra in early July and spread to other provinces, PMF offices, as well as those of political parties and government buildings, have become targets.
The Badr Organization is led by former Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri, also head of the PMF's political coalition. It is the largest and most powerful of the militias in Iraq that receive direct support from Iran.
On Tuesday, a senior member of another top PMF militia publicly and brazenly threatened protesters if attacks on their offices continued.
“All those who stood behind the dirty and evil [demonstrators] hands, and tried to direct them to hit the Islamic Resistance of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, shame on you and on those who support you,” said Khaled al-Saadi, a member of the Executive Office of the group in a speech presented to its supporters in Najaf.
Blaming protests on the "Zionist-American" and the "Turkish-Gulf projects," he vowed that “any hand that approaches our offices and the headquarters of Asaib Ahl al-Haq will be cut off... The hands that attack our offices will be cut off immediately."
“We do not need permission from anyone and we will not wait for the green light from anyone," he continued. “Any tongue speaking badly of the Islamic Resistance of Asaib Ahl al-Haq will be silenced."
The demonstrations have been strongest in Basra, Babil, Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, and also the province of Qadisiya, of which Diwaniya is a part. On Friday, they spread to the capital of Baghdad, where thousands gathered and riot police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
Casualty numbers are not known, as figures claimed by Iraqi officials and protest organizers have varied widely. Dozens are claimed to have been killed clashes and hundreds of protesters and security force members have been reported wounded.
In a report released on Friday, Amnesty International charged that authorities have intentionally cut off internet access shortly before security forces have attacked, and in some cases killed, protesters.
On Tuesday, the United Nations' (UN) envoy to Iraq urged the government to address people’s legitimate concerns and called on political actors to ensure the next government prioritizes good governance, anti-corruption measures, and delivery of critical public services.