US expresses ‘outrage’ at violence against Iraqi demonstrators

“We welcome every effort by the government to hold accountable the militias, thugs and vigilante groups for their attacks against Iraqis,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Friday 28/05/2021
Security forces try to disperse anti-government protesters during demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, May 25, 2021. (AP)
Security forces try to disperse anti-government protesters during demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, May 25, 2021. (AP)

WASHINGTON – The United States is outraged that peaceful Iraqi demonstrators demanding reform were met with threats and “brutal violence,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Thursday.

One person died and several were injured on Tuesday when Iraqi security forces fired live rounds in the air to disperse anti-government protests in central Baghdad, according to security and medical sources.

Hundreds demonstrated in Tahrir Square, shouting slogans against Iran-backed militias and accusing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government of failing to answer for the deaths of dozens of activists shot dead in different parts of Iraq in recent months.

“The United States is outraged that peaceful demonstrators who took to the streets to urge reform were met with threats and brutal violence,” Price said.

“We welcome every effort by the government to hold accountable the militias, thugs and vigilante groups for their attacks against Iraqis exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as well as for their assault on the rule of law.”

Two Iraqis were killed and 28 others were injured in clashes Tuesday as thousands protested in Baghdad to demand justice over a wave of deadly attacks on pro-democracy activists and journalists.

Medics and police said demonstrators were injured when police fired tear gas to disperse them, while five policemen were hurt by projectiles thrown at them during the operation.

Mohammad Baker from the southern town of Diwaniya died in Al-Kindi hospital from a gunshot wound in the neck, a medical source said.

Another medical source later said another person had died, without giving more details.

Waving portraits of victims, gunned down with silencers by unknown assailants, the demonstrators converged on the Iraqi capital’s main squares including Tahrir, as police were deployed in force.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in the US-led invasion of 2003, political parties have controlled life in Iraq and corruption has plagued state institutions.

Many in the crowds travelled from the southern cities of Karbala, Najaf and Nassiriya, where several of the killings occurred.

Anti-government campaigner Ihab al-Wazni was killed in the Shia Muslim holy city of Karbala on May 9, a day before prominent journalist Ahmed Hassan was also shot in southern Iraq. He remains in a coma after undergoing brain surgery.

Killings, attempted murders and abductions have targeted more than 70 activists since a protest movement erupted against government corruption and incompetence in 2019.

Authorities have consistently failed to publicly identify or charge the perpetrators of the killings, which have not been claimed.

However, activists have repeatedly blamed Iran-backed armed groups that wield considerable influence in Iraq.