Iraqi officials ban use of live rounds at protests
Iraq’s top three officials banned the use of live ammunition and violence against protesters yesterday after a security crackdown on anti-government demonstrations that killed more than 300 people.
Protests have gripped the country since the start of October, with demonstrators calling for an overhaul of the sectarian system established after the US-led invasion in 2003.
Baghdad will start the “legislation of a new electoral law” according to a joint statement from Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, President Barham Salih and Parliament Speaker Mohamad Al Halbousi.
As Iraq’s commander-in chief, Mr Abdul Mahdi was ordered to ban the use of live bullets and all forms of violence against demonstrators.
The three officials called for those who carry out excessive violence against demonstrators to be held accountable.
The leaders praised the demonstrators for maintaining a “peaceful movement putting the interest of the nation above their intentions”.
Mr Abdul Mahdi’s spokesperson said the prime minister is directly supervising the implementation of a reform package designed to satisfy protesters who have been out on the streets since October 1.
The independent Iraq High Commission for Human Rights said yesterday that 319 people had been killed since the protests started, with 15,000 injuries.
“The government must use UN standards when facing civil protests,” an Iraqi official told The National. “The use of violence must only be for self defence or for the prevention of risk against civilians.”
The commission and the parliament’s human rights committee complained of a lack of co-operation from government bodies meant to provide casualty figures.
The government recently placed a gagging order on any official casualty figures, and medics and activists say they fear being followed or arrested for their involvement in protests. The UN said it was
fielding “daily reports of killings, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, beatings and intimidation of protesters”.
Its top official in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said a “climate of fear” was descending on the country.
The security forces clashed with demonstrators on Baghdad’s Khulani Square yesterday.
Twelve protesters died and 100 others were wounded on Saturday when the security forces cleared protest sites, medical sources said.
Nine were killed in Baghdad, most struck in the head by teargas canisters. Three died in the southern city of Basra.
The demonstrators in Baghdad tried to reach the three bridges spanning the Tigris that lead into the heavily fortified Green Zone.
They were pushed from Sinak Bridge to the nearby Khulani Square, where 35 people were wounded, medical officials said. Members of the security forces also regained control of Ahrar and Shuhada bridges.
Protesters have tried to force their way across on an almost daily basis.
On Friday, the authorities found, and defused, a bomb under Sinak Bridge, state television reported.
Amnesty International called the killing of protesters a bloodbath and said the Iraqi authorities should immediately rein in the security forces.
“The government of Iraq has a duty to protect its people’s right to life, as well as to gather and express their views. This bloodbath must stop now, and those responsible for it must be brought to justice,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.
In the southern city of Nasiriyah, security and medical officials said 31 people were injured in confrontations outside the education directorate as security forces tear-gassed protesters who were trying to block employees from reaching the building in the city centre.
Mr Abdul Mahdi on Saturday said his government considered “the peaceful protests of our people as among the most important events since 2003”, and vowed to meet demands for wide-ranging reforms.
He said electoral reforms would be tabled soon along with “an important government reshuffle”.
The prime minister also acknowledged that his government had been blocking access to the internet.
The demonstrators have complained of widespread corruption, a lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, including regular power cuts, despite Iraq’s vast oil reserves.
They rejected government proposals for limited economic reforms and called on political leaders, including Mr Abdul Mahdi, to resign.
Twelve protesters were killed and 100 were wounded on Saturday when Iraqi security forces cleared rally sites