Iraqi forces kill more than 40 protesters in bloody crackdown
At least 350 people have died since October 1, when demonstrators took to the streets to denounce corruption.
Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 45 protesters Thursday after protesters stormed and torched an Iranian consulate overnight, which could mark a turning point in the uprising against Tehran-backed authorities.
At least 29 people died in the southern town of Nassiriyah when troops opened fire on protesters who blocked a bridge before dawn on Thursday and then gathered outside a police station. According to police and medical sources, dozens of other people were injured.
Four people were killed in Baghdad, where security forces opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets at protesters near a bridge over the Tigris, the sources said, and 12 died in clashes in Najaf.
Anti-government protests have been sweeping Iraq since October 1, when thousands took to the streets of Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite south. The largely leaderless movement accuses the government of being hopelessly corrupt and has also denounced Iran’s growing influence in the affairs of the Iraqi state.
At least 350 people were killed by security forces, who regularly used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds, sometimes shooting protesters directly with gas cartridges, killing several.
Escalating violence and the strong retaliation against protesters by a largely Iranian-backed government have threatened to escalate tensions, especially if efforts to implement electoral and anti-corruption reforms fail to quell the protesters.
Crisis committees have been created to strengthen coordination between Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi and the governors of provinces affected by the protests “for the importance of security oversight and law enforcement,” a statement said. of the Joint Operations Command.
In Nasiriyah, thousands of mourners took to the streets later Thursday, defying the curfew to bury their dead after the mass shooting.
The oil-rich city also saw more than 200 injured by security forces who fired to pull them away from major bridges on Wednesday evening, health and safety officials said Thursday.
Protesters had been blocking the Nasr and Zaitoun bridges leading to the city center for several days. Security forces moved on Wednesday evening to open the main thoroughfare.
On Thursday afternoon, special forces were moved from neighboring Najaf and Diwanieh provinces to Nasiriyah to contain the violence, security officials said.
Seat of the Shiite clergy
In Najaf, the city of ancient pilgrimage shrines, the fire at the consulate on Wednesday evening sparked a series of bloody events.
After the attack on the Iranian consulate, security forces were heavily deployed around key government buildings and religious institutions on Thursday morning.
Najaf is the seat of the country’s Shiite religious authority led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani. He broadly supported the protesters’ demands, siding with them in repeatedly calling on political parties to implement serious reforms.
In a statement that said more violence was coming, the military commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (FMP), a coordination group of paramilitary groups whose most powerful factions are close to Iran, suggested that the unrest of the night in Najaf were a threat to the Shia clergy. based in the city.
The paramilitary fighters would use all force against anyone who threatened Sistani, Commander Abu Mahdi al Muhandis said in a statement posted on the PMF website.
“We will cut off the hand of anyone who tries to approach Sistani,” he said.
Iran has called for a “responsible, strong and effective” response to the burning of its consulate, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in statements to the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
Security forces fired live ammunition on Thursday, killing four protesters and injuring 22 at the strategic Ahrar bridge in Baghdad, health and safety officials said. Protesters attempted to cross the Ahrar Bridge leading to the vicinity of the heavily fortified Green Zone, seat of the Iraqi government.
Protesters occupy parts of three bridges – Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar – all leading to the walled area.
Violence erupted after Abdul Mahdi sent military commanders to “restore order” in the protest-stricken south, hours after protesters torched the Tehran consulate.
The Iraqi prime minister sacked a new commander after the killings, state television reported Thursday evening.
Sadr calls on the government to resign
Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr called on the Iraqi government to step down “immediately to stop the bloodshed” while imploring protesters to keep the peace.
“If the government does not resign, it will be the beginning of the end of Iraq,” he warned.
Sadr warned those who torched the embassy that they risked provoking a violent reaction from the authorities.
“Do not cover them up to end your revolution and stay away from religious sites,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
If the government does not resign, “this is the beginning of the end of Iraq,” he said.
Sadr, who supported the protests, also categorically denied that his supporters were involved in the attack on the Iranian consulate in Najaf.
In addition to using sit-ins and burning tires to shut off major avenues, protesters recently targeted Iraqi economic interests in the south by blocking major ports and roads leading to oil fields.
“We don’t want Iranians”
Earlier in Najaf, protesters accused the Iraqi authorities of turning on their own people to defend Iran.
“All of Najaf’s riot police and security forces started shooting at us as if we were burning Iraq as a whole,” said one protester who witnessed the consulate fire, asking not to be identified.
Another protester, Ali, described the attack on the consulate as “a courageous act and a reaction from the Iraqi people. We don’t want the Iranians.”
But he predicted more violence: âThere will be revenge from Iran, I’m sure. They are still there and the security forces will continue to shoot at us.
TRT World speak with Saad al Muttalib, member of the local government in Baghdad, to learn more about the “crisis cells” set up by the government.
suspended tv channels
The US embassy has denounced a recent decision by the Iraqi media regulator to suspend nine television channels, calling on the Communications and Media Commission to reverse its decision. Thursday’s statement by the US Embassy in Baghdad also condemned the attacks and harassment against journalists.
Local channel Dijla TV had its license suspended Tuesday for its coverage of the protests, and its office was closed and equipment confiscated, according to an official at one of the threatened channels.
Other channels have been invited by the regulatory commission to sign a pledge “to agree to abide by its rules,” said the official, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Meanwhile, Tehran called for a “responsible, strong and effective” response from the Iraqi leadership to the consulate incident.
The Iraqi foreign ministry condemned the burning of the consulate, saying it was carried out by “people outside the real protesters” in a statement, adding that the aim was to damage bilateral relations between the countries.
TRT World speak with Ahmed rushdi, foreign policy adviser to the Iraqi parliament, on why more protesters have died in Iraq than in any other country in which protests are taking place.
Amnesty International denounces the violence
Amnesty International denounced the violence, calling it a bloodbath which “must end now”.
âNasiriyah’s scenes this morning look more like a war zone than city streets and bridges. This brutal assault is just the latest in a long line of deadly events in which Iraqi security forces inflicted appalling violence on largely peaceful protesters, âsaid Lynn Maalouf, director of research on the Middle East for rights groups.
In Basra, security forces have been deployed on the city’s main roads to prevent protesters from staging sit-ins on major avenues.
The streets of Basra were open Thursday morning, but highways leading to the two main Gulf freight ports at Umm Qasr and Khor al Zubair remained closed.
Schools and official public institutions were also closed.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies