Iraqi PM hints at shooting 'saboteurs' in protests as casualties on the rise

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says Iraqi forces will not shy away from shooting “saboteurs” of the protests that have plunged the southern provinces into unrest amid growing unemployment rates and poor public services.
author_image Kosar Nawzad

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says Iraqi forces will not shy away from shooting “saboteurs” of the protests that have plunged the southern provinces into unrest amid growing unemployment rates and poor public services.

Abadi’s comments came during a meeting with security forces directors and head of intelligence services regarding the ongoing protests in the country’s south.

Last week, at the start of the demonstrations in oil-rich Basra, security forces began shooting in the air to disperse the protesters, and in other instances provoked them by firing tear gas.

The situation quickly turned violent, and locals later told Kurdistan 24 that there had been three casualties during clashes with security.

During the conflicts, 11 civilian deaths — most confirmed to have been caused by security forces — have been reported so far in the provinces of Basra, Maysan, al-Muthanna, and Najaf.

The protests are ongoing in almost all the southern regions of Iraq.

During a press conference on Sunday, ex-governor of Basra and ally to current Iraqi Vice-President Ayad Allawi, Wael Abdul-Latif, said the committee the Council of Ministers, led by Abadi, created to solve the woes of the people of the area is only a distraction, and nothing will come of it.

“Abadi’s government and the ones that preceded it have completely ignored the province of Basra,” Abdul-Latif stated.

At a time of neglect, a storm of discontent is brewing among the people in Iraq’s southern provinces, from Baghdad to Basra. The ongoing protests that started last week reflect this reality.

During his meeting, Abadi reiterated words he had uttered during an interview in Brussels warning of “seditious elements” within the protesters who want to seize the “peaceful” demonstrations to cause “disorder.”

Abadi claims he gave explicit orders not to shoot live rounds on “peaceful” protesters. 

The behavior of the security forces, however, is hard to monitor as one of the measures the government has taken is the complete blockage of social media across the country and internet cuts in the southern regions.

Not using weapons “does not mean avoiding inevitable confrontation, as those who evade it are seen as weak,” Abadi said.

“We are in a phase of reconstruction” after the “defeat” of the Islamic State and this process “necessitates the enforcement of security,” he concluded.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany