Ihab al-Wazni led protests in the Shia holy city of Karbala where pro-Iran armed groups hold major sway.
The United States is outraged that peaceful Iraqi demonstrators demanding reform met threats and “brutal violence”, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday.
One demonstrator was shot dead and dozens injured during violence at a rally in Baghdad two days ago when thousands gathered to demand accountability from Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi for the murders of prominent Iraqi activists and protesters.
“The United States is outraged that peaceful demonstrators who took to the streets to urge reform were met with threats and brutal violence,” Price said in a statement.
“We welcome every effort by the government to hold accountable the militias, thugs, and vigilante groups for their attacks against Iraqis exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as for their assault on the rule of law,” the State Department spokesman said.
What started as a hopeful wave of demonstrations in Tahrir Square saw tensions brew throughout the day ending with violence as security forces fired guns and tear gas to crackdown on protesters in the early evening.
Videos shared on social media showed chaos reminiscent of October 2019 when the nationwide social uprising first began and several protesters were killed by security forces.
The U.S. is outraged by disregard for the rule of law in Iraq. The judiciary should be allowed to operate without intimidation and threats of violence and Iraqis exercising their rights and freedoms should be able to demonstrate without fear of attacks. https://t.co/pBdxZCJrYT
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) May 27, 2021
Almost 600 demonstrators have been killed and 35 activists have died in 82 targeted killings, according to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.
Tuesday’s protests had been sparked by the killing of activist Ihab Jawad al-Wazni near his home in Karbala on May 9 and calls by his family for an end to impunity.
The perpetrators have yet to be identified but activists and demonstrators pointed to Iran-backed militias. Hundreds demonstrating in Tahrir Square on May 25 had shouted slogans against Iran-backed militias.
Iraqi security forces on May 26 arrested Qasim Muslih, commander of the Iranian-backed Shia militia Popular Mobilisation Forces in Anbar province.
Muslih was arrested in connection with recent attacks on the Ain al-Asad airbase, where US and other international forces are housed, officials told the Reuters news service.
Meanwhile, with public discontent rising, the government of Prime Minister al-Kadhimi faces national elections that have been delayed from June until October.
After taking office in May last year, al-Kadhimi had promised to hold early elections to appease demonstrators demanding an overhaul of the country’s political system. Now, there are calls for a boycott of the election among many Iraqis disenchanted with the pace of progress.