Iraq to probe deaths and injuries in Baghdad amid ongoing protests

Clashes between pro-Iran groups and security forces broke out over election results

Protesters demonstrate against last month’s election result, near an entrance to the Green Zone in Baghdad on November 5, 2021. Photo: AFP
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has ordered an investigation into the violent clashes that broke out on Friday over the results of October’s general election.

A committee will probe the deaths and injuries suffered by demonstrators and security forces when hundreds of supporters of the influential Iran-backed Shiite militias within the Popular Mobilisation Forces rallied near the Green Zone to vent their fury over the election result, the Iraqi News Agency reported, citing Iraq’s Joint Operations Command.

Police fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air as scores of the protesters threw stones and tried to advance towards Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

While the Joint Operations Command statement did not give a number of deaths or injuries, two security officials said at least one protester was killed and the health ministry told AP that at least 27 civilians and 98 members of the security forces were injured.

A leader of the Hezbollah Brigades, one of the most powerful factions within the Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary network, put the number of dead at two, AFP reported.

The Joint Operations Command statement said that “the negligent will be brought to legal accountability for their negligence and violation of the explicit orders of the commander in chief, which stressed that live bullets should not be fired under any circumstances”.

Pro-Iran groups stage violent protest outside Baghdad's Green Zone

Pro-Iran groups stage violent protest outside Baghdad's Green Zone

As per Mr Al Kadhimi’s orders, the investigation committee will include the security of the PMF, a state-sanctioned umbrella organisation of militias backed by Iran, INA reported.

Funeral procession

A funeral procession took place on Saturday afternoon for those killed, with mourners gathering in tents set up in a park outside one of the Green Zone entrances at which Friday’s clashes took place.

Influential militia leaders who attended the funeral were greeted with pro-militia slogans from demonstrators asking them to take revenge.

Among the leaders in attendance were Hadi Al Amiri – the leader of the Badr Brigade and the Iran-backed Fatah bloc of politicians and militia commanders linked to Tehran – and the PMF’s chief of staff, Abd Al Aziz Malluh Mirjirash. Also known as Abu Fadak, he is under US sanctions.

The Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army, the National Security Adviser and officials from the interior ministry were also seen at the funeral.

Dozens of PMF members and supporters marched outside the Green Zone.

Some held posters showing Mr Al Kadhimi behind bars and wearing an orange prison uniform, with a line saying: “The wanted criminal.”

Others held banners describing senior army officers in charge of the Green Zone as criminals.

On Saturday, mourners in the holy Shiite city of Najaf carried two coffins of Hashed supporters they said died in the Baghdad clashes, one of them belonging to Abdul-Latif Al Khuwaildi, a senior leader of the influential Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia.

Iraqi security forces have been placed at the entrances and roads leading to the Green Zone that houses key government offices, including the Cabinet, as well as the elections commission and foreign embassies.

A show of defiance

At the protest encampment near one of the entrances in Baghdad’s Jadiriyah neighbourhood, twisted metal frames of the tents and charred debris lay on the pavement.

The upscale area on the banks of the Tigris is home to the headquarters of powerful Shiite militias, including Asaib Ahl Al Haq, as well as some PMF offices.

“We will not allow you to steal our votes,” read a placard with a portrait of Mr Al Kadhimi and a cross on his face.

In a show of defiance to the government, Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia leader Qais Al Khazali visited the scene late on Friday.

“Al Kadhimi is responsible for this crime as well as the officers in charge,” Mr Al Khazali told the angry mob that had gathered around him at the scene. He vowed legal measures against “those responsible”.

Saturday’s renewed demonstrations came as Iraq’s numerous political parties awaited the final ratified results from the vote on October 10, before negotiations to form coalitions and name a new prime minister can begin in earnest.

Preliminary results saw the Conquest (Fatah) Alliance, the political arm of Hashed Al Shaabi, suffer a substantial decline in its parliamentary seats, with the group’s supporters denouncing the outcome as “fraud”.

Iraqi political analyst Ihsan Al Shammari said the pro-Hashed protests were aimed at strengthening its negotiating position during the coalition bargaining process.

According to preliminary tallies, the Conquest won about 15 of the 329 seats in Parliament, down from the 48 it held previously, which made it the second-largest bloc.

But the big winner this time, with more than 70 seats according to the initial count, was the movement of Moqtada Al Sadr, a Shiite Muslim preacher who campaigned as a nationalist and critic of Iran.

The final election results are expected within weeks.

Updated: November 06, 2021, 5:18 PM