Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 June 2020

Iraqi army used ‘excessive force’ on protesters, government says

About 70 per cent of 157 deaths were caused by bullet wounds to head or chest
Anti-government protesters set fires and close a street during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. AP

Iraqi security forces used "excessive force and live fire", killing 157 mostly civilians, during anti-government demonstrations this month, a government investigation said on Tuesday.

“The committee found that officers and commanders lost control over their forces during the protests and this caused chaos,” a panel said in its report.

Protests erupted in Baghdad and surrounding cities over high unemployment, poor public services and corruption, prompting a violent security crackdown.

Most of the protesters were aged between 15 and 25, and about 70 per cent of the deaths were caused by bullet wounds to the head or chest.

The civilian death toll reached 149 and eight members of the security forces were killed after the unrest erupted on October 1 and lasted for one week.

Calls have been made on social media for more rallies on Friday, the anniversary of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's government taking office.

Populist cleric Muqtada Al Sadr gave his supporters approval to resume demonstrations on Friday.

"It's your right to participate in protests on October 25," Mr Sadr said in a Facebook post on Saturday evening.

October 25 will also mark the deadline issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader for Iraq's Shiite majority, for the government to respond to protesters' demands.

The investigation committee also found evidence of snipers shooting protesters from inside a building in central Baghdad.

“During our field investigation we found shells from sniper fire inside an abandoned building near a petrol station in central Baghdad,” the report said.

The panel urged the dismissal of Baghdad’s operations commander and other senior security officials.

It condemned riot police for failing to impose a curfew, which panel members believe intensified the violence.

“Civilian casualties were the direct cause of weak commandments and control by security and military officials,” the report said.

Updated: October 23, 2019 09:49 AM