Iraq‘s military admitted on Monday that “excessive force” was used in Baghdad after a mass protest led to clashes that medics and security officials said left 15 people dead, raising the toll from nearly a week of violence to more than 110 people.
“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.
It was the first time since protests broke out on Tuesday that security forces acknowledged using disproportionate measures, while protesters accused them of directly firing live rounds.
More than 6,000 people have been wounded over the past week.
Hundreds gathered overnight on Sunday in Sadr City, a densely-populated district in eastern Baghdad where state security forces are rarely seen.
Videos distributed on social media of the late-night rally show protesters ducking in streets littered with burning tyres as heavy gunfire is heard.
The military said early on Monday that it was withdrawing from Sadr City and handing security over to police in an apparent effort to de-escalate tension.
In a statement distributed to journalists on Monday, the Iraqi military said Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered “all army units to withdraw from Sadr City to be replaced with federal police units”.
He called on all forces to abide by the “rules of engagement” in dealing with rallies.
In his only address to protesters last week, Abdul Mahdi insisted security forces were acting “within international standards” in dealing with demonstrations.