Excessive force to blame for Iraq protest toll: Gov’t report

Committee tasked with probing this month’s unrest recommends Baghdad operations commander and other officials be sacked.

Members of Iraqi federal police are seen with military vehicles in a street in Baghdad
The report blames senior security officials for losing command over their forces [File: Wissm al-Okili/Reuters]

A total of 157 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Iraq because security forces used excessive force and live fire to quell this month’s wave of anti-government protests, a government committee tasked with investigating the violence has found.

State television on Tuesday cited the committee’s official report which found that 149 civilians and eight members of the security forces were killed since the demonstrations erupted on October 1.

“The committee found during its field investigation shells from a sniper rifle inside an abandoned building near a petrol station in central Baghdad,” the report said.

It blamed senior security officials for losing command and control over their forces and recommended the Baghdad operations commander and other senior officials be sacked.

Reporting from Baghdad, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said seven military commanders had already been sacked from various provinces across the country. 

“They’ve been removed from their post,” Khan said. “The report went on to say that there is going to be judicial investigations that take place to see whether there will be any court cases in the future involving those individuals.” 

“Obviously, a lot of protesters will be wanting to see people responsible in a court, but that won’t happen quickly,” he added. 

Days of unrest

Iraq, a country of 38 million, was rocked by days of protests earlier this month as thousands of mostly young men demonstrated in different parts of the country against corruption, unemployment and poor public services.

Protesters blamed corruption and infighting among political leaders for failing to improve their lives even in peacetime, two years after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group was declared defeated in Iraq.

Security forces used water cannon, tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

The mostly leaderless demonstrations were the biggest challenge yet to the year-old government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Abdul Mahdi had insisted security forces had been acting “within international standards” in dealing with the demonstrators, but Iraq’s military later admitted it had used “excessive force”.

“Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts,” the military said in a statement earlier this month.

It added that Abdul Mahdi had ordered those forces to be replaced with federal police units.

The unrest subsided on October 7, but protesters plan to resume rallies on Friday, Al Jazeera’s Khan said.

“Will (the report) be enough to appease the protesters who say they want the people responsible for firing on them to be brought to justice?” Khan said. “Well let’s see what happens on Friday.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies