Excessive force sees 149 deaths in Iraqi unrest

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An Iraqi government committee investigating a wave of unrest found 149 civilians were killed because security forces used excessive force and live fire to quell protests, according to its report.

The report, which said more than 70% of deaths were caused by shots to the head or chest, held senior commanders responsible but stopped short of blaming the prime minister and other top officials, saying there was no order to shoot.

Protests over high unemployment, poor public services and corruption erupted on October 1, prompting a violent security crackdown. Protesters blame graft and infighting among political leaders for failing to improve their lives, two years after Islamic State was declared defeated in Iraq.

“The committee found officers and commanders lost control over their forces during protests and this caused chaos,” the panel said in its report. “There were no official orders from the supreme authorities to open fire on protesters or use live ammunition at all.”

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi set up the committee to investigate the bloodshed and promised a cabinet reshuffle and reforms including steps to fight graft as well as provide government jobs and land to university graduates.

Critics said his gestures were vague and appear unlikely to defuse public anger over rampant corruption. Renewed protests are planned for Friday after a three-week hiatus.

The report recommended the Baghdad operations commander in charge of response to the unrest and other senior security officials be dismissed and put on trial.

Its recommendations must be approved by Abdul Mahdi before referred to prosecutors for possible trials.

SNIPERS

The report said 149 civilians and eight security force members were killed in a week of disturbances ending October 7. It found evidence of sniper fire targeting protesters from a building in central Baghdad.

“The committee found during its field investigation shells from a sniper rifle inside an abandoned building near a petrol station in central Baghdad,” the report said.

Two Iraqi security officials told Reuters Iran-backed militias deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops during what became Iraq’s deadliest anti-government protests for years.



Other contributing factors to the deadly violence were failure to impose a curfew or punish broadcasters for airing false reports, as well as the use of firebombs by demonstrators.