Baghdad ups probes into protest bloodshed as pressure mounts

At least 108 people were killed and more than 6,000 wounded in six days of protests

FILE - In this Friday, March 24, 2017 file photo, followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr chant slogans demanding government reform during a demonstration at Tahrir square in Baghdad, Iraq. In early October 2019, social media users began sharing a falsely captioned photo from this event claiming to depict recent protests in Iraq. The country has been embroiled in anti-government clashes for the past week as protesters demand jobs, improved services and an end to corruption. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
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Iraqi authorities, under pressure from the streets as well as political and religious forces, on Saturday increased the number of commissions to investigate the deaths of more than 100 people in recent protest.

From October 1 to 6, at least 108 people were killed and more than 6,000 wounded, the government's Human Rights Commission said.

The vast majority of them were protesters demanding an end to rampant corruption and chronic unemployment who were shot by live rounds. Authorities have blamed "unidentified snipers".

But human rights advocates and the growing numbers of Iraqis who have been able to access social media via channels bypassing restrictions in the country or from abroad, disagree.

They hold security forces responsible for the bloodshed: either by firing themselves or not protecting protesters from snipers who infiltrated the demonstrations.

So far, authorities have accepted responsibility for two incidents.

They have acknowledged that the military had used "excessive force" in the Shiite bastion of Sadr City in Baghdad and say anti-riot police were responsible for the killing of a protester in Babylon south of the capital.

But overnight Friday, authorities ordered the creation of two new investigatory commissions.

One is led by Iraq's military command and expected to shed light on the deaths and wounded as well as attacks on public buildings and raids by unidentified gunmen on media.

The other, composed of representatives from the armed forces, parliament, the human rights commission and the judiciary will investigate and bring to justice soldiers who acted illegally.

This comes after a failed attempt in parliament on Thursday by politicians from former premier Haider Al-Abadi's Victory Alliance to garner enough votes to summon Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.

During his sermon on Friday, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, spiritual leader for Iraq's Shiite majority, increased the pressure on authorities.

"The government is responsible when, under the eye of law enforcement, protesters are fired on illegally and media are beaten or attacked to terrorise their employees," he said.

Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani, who wields significant power to influence the government, gave authorities "two weeks" to release the findings of the promised investigations.

The prime minister's office said the creation of the commission set to investigate military personnel, comes "in response to Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani's sermon".