The deaths of civilians and the growing number of wounded at the ongoing demonstrations across Iraq and the response of Iraqi security forces (ISF) in restoring public order is unacceptable.
“Iraqi security forces must show maximum restraint in how they respond to demonstrations,” said Sahr Muhammedally, Director MENA & South Asia, from the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC). “The use of force by security forces must be proportionate to the situation and used as a last resort to restore public order.”
On October 29, masked gunmen in the holy city of Karbala – their identity unknown – opened fire on demonstrators. On October 25, four civilians were killed after ISF fired tear gas canisters during demonstrations in Baghdad. Protestors have burned, or attempted to burn, office buildings in several cities in Nasiriya; guards responded by opening fire at protestors. Between October 25 and 28, 67 civilians have been killed and over 2,000 injured.
Demonstrations started in Baghdad and governorates in southern Iraq on October 1, with protesters demanding that the government improve services, address unemployment, and curb corruption. Between October 1 and 9, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) reported that an array of security forces used live ammunition in confronting rock-throwing protesters and gave no warnings to disperse crowds prior to using lethal force in Baghdad. ISF also shot at protesters as they dispersed, used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Use of live ammunition was also attributed to armed men dressed in black with covered faces and unidentified snipers. Protesters torched the offices of leading Shiite Islamist parties in Nasiriya (including Daawa, Hikma, and Asaeb Ahl al-Haq), and paramilitary groups and masked men in civilian clothing attacked media outlets in Baghdad. The violence resulted in the death of 157 and injured 5,494, including some security forces, since the protests began.
Government and security officials stressed that commanders did not order security forces to open fire and instructions had been given to not use live ammunition. On October 12, Prime Minister Abdul Al-Mahdi ordered an investigation into death of protestors. On October 22, the Investigative Committee released its findings admitting excessive use of force and recommending disciplinary and judicial investigations.
CIVIC welcomes these preliminary steps towards accountability, but notes that they are not sufficient. The renewed violence since the report’s conclusion requires the Government of Iraq to prioritize de-escalation and restraint in its response to protests, and conduct a thorough review of all procedures, trainings, and equipment of security forces to manage demonstrations.
“Only properly trained uniformed security forces, with identifiable unit affiliations, under clear chain of command, who have been trained to handle demonstrations should be deployed,” said Muhammedally. “The ISF should be trained on de-escalation measures, use of tear gas, and non-lethal means.”
The anti-ISIS coalition, which supports the Iraqi government through advising and training of security forces, should insist that the Iraqi government instructs its forces on its obligations under international human rights law to manage demonstrations, and provide necessary law enforcement trainings to Iraqi forces.
The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Official permits the use of force when strictly necessary and only to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. During violent protests, use of lethal force must be proportional to the seriousness of the offense, meet a legitimate law enforcement objective, used with advance warning, and used alongside other non-lethal methods.