Protesters killed in Iraq as HRW slams attacks on medics

Rights body says medics have become 'victim of the state's excessive force' as 3 more killed on Thursday.

    The HRW urged Baghdad to ensure an independent investigation into every death at the hands of security forces [Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters]
    The HRW urged Baghdad to ensure an independent investigation into every death at the hands of security forces [Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters]

    A human rights group has accused Iraq's police and members of the military of attacking medical workers for treating demonstrators, as security forces killed at least three more protesters in the capital Baghdad on Thursday.

    Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday that security forces had fired on medical workers, tents, and ambulances with tear gas and live ammunition, punishing them for treating protesters.

    "Medics have become another victim of the state's excessive force. These attacks show an utter disregard for the overriding need to ensure medical workers can do their essential job," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

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    On Thursday, security forces used live rounds, rubber bullets and fired tear gas canisters in a bid to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered near Baghdad's Tahrir Square, the Reuters News Agency reported.

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    One protester died immediately after a tear gas canister hit his head and another lost his life in hospital from wounds from a stun bomb fired by security forces, reports said on Thursday, adding that at least 50 people were wounded in the latest clashes in the capital.

    Al Jazeera's Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Baghdad, said the protesters were killed between 7am and 8am local time (04:00-05:00 GMT).

    At least half of the wounded protesters had injuries sustained from live ammunition, police and medical sources told Reuters.

    Since early October, mass protests have raged across the country against the ruling class, calling for the overhaul of a quota-based system in the world's second-largest oil producer.

    The head of the Iraqi Parliament's human rights commission told Al Jazeera earlier this week that 319 people had died since October 1 with more than 15,000 wounded during the protests. Most of the casualties were anti-government protesters, but security officers also died in the violence.

    Independent investigation

    The HRW on Thursday urged the Iraqi government to ensure an independent investigation into every death at the hands of security forces, with the help of international experts if necessary. 

    It also demanded authorities investigate allegations of security forces interfering with medical services and ensure that anyone wounded has access to immediate and unimpeded care.

    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's government has taken some measures to try and quell the unrest, including handouts to the poor and creating more job opportunities for college graduates.

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    However, it has failed to keep up with the growing demands of demonstrators who are now calling for an overhaul of Iraq 's sectarian political system and the departure of its entire ruling elite.

    The unrest is among the largest and most complex challenges to the current ruling elite since it took power after the United States invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

    Since defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group in 2017, Iraq has enjoyed two years of comparative stability.

    But despite its oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare and education.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies