Masked men shoot and kill 5 protesters in Iraqi city of Basra

Cheryl Sanders
November 9, 2019

Protesters, mostly unemployed young people, blame a political elite that has ruled Iraq since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in a 2003 US-led invasion and demand a complete overhaul of the political system.

In his Friday sermon, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said it is the responsibility of the security forces to ensure peaceful protests and avoid using excessive force against the demonstrators.

Anti-government protesters in Iraq stormed a fourth bridge on Wednesday in central Baghdad, where security forces pushed them back with batons and tear gas, wounding dozens, and a medic was killed near another bridge while aiding demonstrators.

Over 260 people have been killed since protests erupted on October 1. On Thursday night, masked men attacked protesters in the city, killing five people, Iraqi state TV and medical officials said.

"We don't know who took them", he said.

The violent response from authorities has fuelled public anger.

At least 24 others were wounded as security forces fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse the protesters, security and medical officials said.

Snipers from militias that have participated in the crackdown were deployed last month, Reuters reported.

Live fire is often used against demonstrators and even tear gas canisters, fired directly at protesters instead of being lobbed into crowds, have killed at least 16 people, New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

Sistani also warned against the exploitation of the unrest by "internal and external" forces which he said sought to destabilize Iraq for their own goals.

According to the report, one Reuters video clip reviewed by HRW appeared to show a member of the security forces firing a tear gas canister directly at a group of protesters only a short distance away on a flat trajectory, suggesting intent to harm rather than to disperse. He did not elaborate.

A barrage of 17 rockets landed near a military base hosting USA forces in northern Iraq yesterday but caused no injuries or major material damage. The statement did not say who was believed to be behind the attack, but added that there were no injuries or major damage.

A crackdown by authorities against mostly unarmed protesters has killed more than 260 people since demonstrations began on October 1 over lack of jobs, chronic power and clean water shortages, poor education and healthcare and corruption.

Baghdad has attempted to balance relations with Iran and the United States, which provides economic and military aid and also supported Iraqi forces in the defeat of IS.

Other reports by iNewsToday