ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – International human rights watchdog Amnesty International has sternly rebuked Iraqi security forces’ violent response to demonstrations in the capital Baghdad and other cities this week, calling their actions “unnecessary” and “outrageous.”
“The Iraqi government must immediately order security forces to stop using excessive, including lethal, force against protesters and ensure that the investigation announced into the reported killing of at least 18 protesters and one police officer begins immediately and is fully independent and impartial,” read a statement released on Thursday.
As of Friday evening, Reuters reported that 65 had been killed so far. Estimates of those wounded are in the hundreds.
The protests are a continuance of dozens of previous instances when large numbers of Iraqis took to the streets to protest a low standard of living, chronically inadequate public services, and government corruption. Such demonstrations occur every year, typically in the sweltering summer months, when the hardship caused by electricity shortages is most acute.
Since the summer of 2018, they have been largely centered in the southern city of Basra, but now the focus has shifted to the capital.
The current wave of demonstrations erupted on Tuesday in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, a traditional venue for protest. After news of the security forces’ use of violence, protests quickly spread to several major cities in central and southern Iraq and, to the north, the disputed city of Kirkuk.
The Iraqi government declared a curfew in Baghdad on Wednesday, which it said would be in effect “until further notice” and some provincial governors have taken similar measures.
Amnesty also called on authorities “to end the unlawful blocking of access to the internet and social media, and to lift the arbitrary curfews imposed in several areas.”
“It is outrageous that Iraqi security forces time and again deal with protesters with such brutality using lethal and unnecessary force,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
“The state must commit to holding those responsible to account. This must not be yet another case of the government announcing an investigation or committee of inquiry which never yields any results.”
On Thursday evening, Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi responded to the protests by promising a minimum income scheme for Iraqi citizens.
“The protesters have the right to demand an end to corruption, but it takes time for change to take place,” Abdul Mahdi said, calling for “the normalization of life in various provinces,” and “respect for the rule of law.”
The prime minister asserted there was no “magic solution” to the problems of governance and abuse of power in Iraq but vowed to try to pass a law that would give low-income families a basic income.
Amnesty's report continued, "Protesters in Baghdad have described injuries consistent with those that can result from stun grenades if thrown directly or too close at protestors, or from explosive devices which should not be used at all in public order situations.”
According to international human rights law and policing standards, stun grenades should only ever be used by specially trained officers in very specific circumstances that do not include public order policing operations or managing assemblies.
Amnesty said it is further concerned about reports of arbitrary arrests of protesters and journalists in multiple provinces. In Basra, Baghdad, and Najaf, protesters told the organization that security forces had been randomly arresting protesters.
“The yearly recurrence of these protests goes to show that the underlying drivers of these protests will remain as long as they are not meaningfully addressed," the report continued.
"Instead of meeting these protests with arbitrary and excessive force, authorities must address protesters’ grievances and the root causes of the unrest in a sustainable manner.”