Iraq accuses media of attacking senior general over protest deaths

Gen Jamil Al Shammari oversaw a crackdown that left 29 dead in the southern city of Nasiriyah

Staff General Jamil al-Shammari (C), Basra security operations commander, gives a press conference at the oeprations command headquarters in the southern city on September 5, 2018. (Photo by Haidar MOHAMMED ALI / AFP)
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Iraq's Ministry of Defence has accused the media of launching an attack on army general Jamil Al Shammari, who allegedly ordered the killing of protesters in the southern city of Nasiriyah last week.

Gen Al Shammari has been widely blamed for the death of at least 29 Iraqi protesters during a brutal crackdown last week that has been labelled a massacre.

On Sunday, local media said that Iraq's judiciary issued an arrest warrant for the army general in the first legal action against a high-ranking member of the armed forces since protests first broke out at the beginning of October. He has not been detained since the indictment was announced.

The killings pushed former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, himself a native of Nasiriyah, to resign a day later.

“The ministry would like to confirm that Lieutenant General Jamil Al Shammari issued a strong and official order for his officers to not fire at protesters and stressed the importance of protecting the demonstrators,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Mr Abdul Mahdi stripped Gen Al Shammari from his role as head of the crisis cell in Dhi Qar because of the incident's high death toll, just 16 hours after he had been appointed.

“We are following with great concern the media attacks against senior leaders and officers who have been heroic and courageous in defending their country against threats,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry urged the media to be “accurate before publishing stories” as it does not allow “attacks on our commanders, officers and generals”.

It also called on demonstrators to "respect the law and maintain peaceful protests" and said that members of the security forces are there to protect them.

Washington said that officials in Baghdad must hold those behind the killings on November 28 accountable, with the wider protest death toll now over 420.

David Schenker, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said on Monday that the “use of excessive force” in Nasiriyah “was shocking and abhorrent” and that the Iraqi government “must investigate and hold accountable those who attempt to brutally silence peaceful protesters”.