Iraqi security officer sentenced to life in prison over protest killings

Case is the second against security officers over protester deaths

Iraqis carrying posters at a march to honour the memory of protesters killed in 2019, near Habboubi Square in Iraq's southern city of Nasiriyah. AFP
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An Iraqi police officer has been sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the killing of dozens of protesters in southern Iraq in 2019, a court official told The National on Sunday.

Lieutenant Colonel Omar Nazar was accused of killing protesters who took to the streets in major cities in central and southern Iraq in October 2019. Those attending the protest were calling for a complete overhaul of the country’s political scene.

The trial was the second for a security official accused of killing protesters in the country.

Mr Nazar was accused of ordering police and security forces to fire live ammunition at the protesters in the southern city of Nasiriyah for two consecutive days in November 2019, killing at least 85 and wounding nearly 250 others, the court official said.

He was affiliated with Iraq’s Emergency Response Division, a special branch of the police that is heavily armed and answers to the Iraqi interior ministry. It played a leading role in the fight against ISIS in Mosul.

In December 2019, a court in the city of Kut, south of Baghdad, issued a death sentence against a security officer and a 7-year sentence to another, for firing on protesters during the 2019 protests.

Hussein Al Adhmawi, an activist in Nasiriyah, welcomed the sentence.

“The verdict is not commensurate with the crime, but it’s better than nothing,” Mr Al Adhmawi told The National.

He hopes that it “will be the beginning to bring others to justice”.

In 2019, Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad and other major cities to protest against the political elite who have been in power since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Their demands included more jobs, better services, an end to endemic corruption and an overhaul of the political system, including a change to the electoral system that favoured established parties, who were widely blamed for failed governance.

The leaderless, youth-led protests were met with a heavy-handed crackdown by security forces.

The largest protests since 2003 led to the resignation of the government and the approval of a new law that led to early elections, but it came at a heavy price.

In addition to the 600 protesters killed in the violence, tens of thousands were wounded, many with live ammunition.

The violence resulted in the burning of political party offices and clashes between tribal groups, protesters, police and militias – leading to some deaths among security forces.

Dozens of activists reported intimidation and there were many kidnappings and assassinations.

Activists accused Iran-backed militias of being behind the assassinations to try to subdue the protests. The government and militias blamed “third parties”, without specifying those involved.

In early 2020, the protests ended due to the crackdowns and the coronavirus pandemic. Dozens of independent candidates, who took part in the protests, managed to win seats in the October 2021 elections.

Updated: June 25, 2023, 12:37 PM