Published: Wed, October 09, 2019

Iraq's military admits 'excessive force' used in deadly protests

Iraq's military admits 'excessive force' used in deadly protests

Twelve anti-government demonstrators have been killed in ongoing protests in the capital Baghdad, the latest fatalities over six days of clashes that left more than 100 people dead and thousands injured.

The death toll has reached 110 and thousands have been injured in anti-government protests in Iraq since October 1, according to a medical source.

By Monday evening, the military had been pulled out of Sadr City and a few police officers could be seen on the edges of the neighbourhood, an AFP photographer there said, with no protests there or in other typical gathering spots.

Spokesman Saad Maan said Sunday that 6,107 have been wounded in the unrest, including more than 1,200 security members.

Things were quieter on Monday.

The military said early on Monday it was withdrawing from Sadr city, a sprawling residential district, and handing over to police in an apparent effort to de-escalate tension.

By Sunday afternoon, the protesters, mostly young men, were scattered in side streets near Sadr City.

The uprising over the past week has abruptly ended two years of relative calm unseen in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Iraq's Shia spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani used his weekly Friday prayer sermon to urge authorities to heed the demands of demonstrators, warning the protests could escalate unless clear steps are taken immediately.

"People will not be silenced, and the politicians are not capable of meeting their demands".

The protests, which hit many parts of the country, do not appear to be organised by a single political group and seem to catch government by surprise.

Police fired live rounds during clashes in Nasiriya on Saturday, wounding 24 people including seven police, according to security, hospital and morgue sources.

The identity of the attackers is unknown, though NRT claimed that they belonged to "security forces".

Iraq's president called for a "halt to escalation" and proposed a national dialogue in response to violent protests.

Demonstrators have been calling for "the downfall of the regime", echoing demands in Arab Spring protests that swept across the Middle East in 2011.

But powerful political parties that have dominated Iraqi politics since the 2003 USA -led invasion and toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein have not indicated they are willing to relinquish the institutions they control.

Those parties control armed militia which gained influence in the war against Islamic State. Powerful parties including Iran-backed groups that have links with paramilitary forces might decide that a harsh crackdown would deter protesters, analysts say.

An ambulance arrives at a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Saturday.

They have since spread to other areas, mainly populated by members of the Shi'ite majority.

The protests come despite calls from Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi for the demonstrators to stay off the streets.

It is the deadliest unrest since so-called Islamic State was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017.

"The Prime Minister reviewed developments in the security situation and the return to normal life after the curfew was lifted, and confirmed that security forces had resumed control and stability had been restored", the statement said.

It comes after vague offers of reform promises from the government which included subsidised housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed as well as training programs and small loans initiatives for unemployed youth.

However, protesters took to the streets again Sunday when they said they were again met with live fire from security forces, who also raided several news outlets that reported on the unrest.

In a news conference broadcast on state television, Maan also said that authorities condemned all attacks against media outlets, after reports of raids at the offices of several local and global news outlets by unidentified groups. Gunmen also attacked the offices of Dajla and NRT news channels in Baghdad.

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