Violence flares in Baghdad as unidentified shooters gun down protesters

Unidentified armed men killed over a dozen protesters late Friday in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square in another night of blood-ridden violence over two months after anti-government demonstrations began in Iraq.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Unidentified armed men killed over a dozen protesters late Friday in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square in another night of blood-ridden violence over two months after anti-government demonstrations began in Iraq.

The incident occurred on the same day the US sanctioned three Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders for alleged roles in killings of protesters in various parts of Iraq. Washington has said they would be seeking further sanctions against entities involved in the deaths of demonstrators.

Read More: US sanctions Iran-backed militia leaders for killing Iraqi demonstrators

The blacklisting included Qais al-Khazali, the head of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) paramilitaries, along with his brother and another AAH leader, Laith al-Khazali, a US treasury department statement said. The US also sanctioned Hussein Falih al-Lami, the security chief of the Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

In a night of violent crackdowns in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, unidentified armed individuals killed at least 19 protesters, including three police officers, in stabbings and shootings. They also wounded upwards of 70 others.

On Thursday, 15 protesters were stabbed just after PMF supporters joined demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, which has been the site of demonstrations since they began in October. The pro-PMF march came after calls by one of the paramilitary group’s most powerful militias, the Kata’ib Hezbollah brigades.

Just hours before the latest incident in the capital, Iraq’s Higher Commission for Human Rights warned of a possible escalation that would lead to several deaths among “peaceful protesters and security forces,” affirming that the latter is responsible for protecting the former. 

The interior ministry (police) announced that it had formed a commission of inquiry to investigate the attacks on protesters. A ministry spokesperson said security forces had cordoned off the area where the incident occurred in search of those responsible for the massacre. 

Since the demonstrations began, over 400 people have died, most of them demonstrators killed by Iraqi security forces. 17,000 others have been wounded. The parliament recently approved the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi in response to protest demands.

In a Friday sermon given by his representative, Iraq’s top Shia authority Ali al-Sistani condemned the ongoing bloodshed.

In a statement, Sistani said, “We hope that the head of the new government and its members will be chosen within the constitutional period and according to the aspirations of citizens away from any external interference.”

He claimed that the religious authority “is not a party to any talk in this regard and has no role in it in any way.” 

Editing by John J. Catherine