Nearly 550 Iraqis have been killed in protest-related violence since unprecedented anti-government demonstrations erupted in the capital and southern cities in October, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said on Friday.
Anti-government protests erupted in Iraq back in October 2019 owing to the criminal neglect of civic services, growing unemployment and rampant corruption in the corridors of power. Protesters are calling for a complete overhauling of the political system and fresh elections.
The protests cost Mr Abdul Mahdi his premiership in early October but the delay in the elections prompted the people again to go to the streets. People are pitted against the government and the country’s main cities are entangled in violent clashes that have cost so many lives.
— Rudaw English (@RudawEnglish) February 8, 2020
Iraq’s health ministry confirmed the first protester shot dead on October 1 but clammed up thereafter. The Commission has since repeatedly complained that authorities declined its requests for information on deaths, injuries and arrests.
The Commission, which is government-funded but operates independently, became the only source for death tolls until it too faced pressure last year to stop reporting.
It has resumed its public reporting and on Friday shared its latest statistics with AFP, showing that 543 people have been killed since October, including 276 in Baghdad alone.
Seventeen members of the security forces are among the dead nationwide, according to the updated list. The remaining are all protesters or activists, including 22 who were assassinated.
Read more: Anti-government protesters killed in Iraq
Up to 30,000 more have been wounded during the rallies, according to medical sources.
Iraq’s security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas, smoke bombs and even machine gun fire to try to disperse rallies in the capital and Shiite-majority south.
The Commission found that many of the wounded or killed were shot by live rounds, but Iraq’s government has repeatedly denied its security forces are shooting at the protesters.
Others have died when military-grade tear gas canisters have pierced their skulls or chests after security forces improperly fired such equipment.
The Commission did not lay blame on any particular side but protesters themselves have singled out armed factions and the military wings of political parties, alongside the security forces.
The United Nations, for its part, has accused unnamed “militias” of a vast campaign of assassinations, kidnappings and threats.
The Commission has documented more than 2,700 arrests, with 328 people still detained. Another 72 Iraqis are categorised as disappeared.
AFP with additional input by GVS newsdesk.