Iraq: UN envoy condemns use of birdshot ammunition against protesters

More than 500 people have been killed in nationwide demonstrations since October

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The UN envoy to Iraq condemned the use of hunting rifles loaded with birdshot against peaceful protesters in Baghdad.

Birdshot is a type of shotgun ammunition that is designed for hunting birds in the wild, but it can also cause significant injury to humans if used on them.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq said it received credible reports of protesters being shot at by gunmen using hunting rifles on the nights of February 14-16, leading to at least 50 injuries. Stones and firebombs were also hurled at demonstrators.

At least 150 people were injured in the city of Karbala in January alone, the UN said.

“The continued pattern of the use of excessive force, with ambiguously identified armed groups and unclear loyalties, is a grave security concern that must be tackled urgently and decisively. Peaceful protesters should be protected at all times,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq.

She stressed the importance of the Iraqi government "guaranteeing fundamental human rights", including the rights to life and peaceful assembly.

There was no immediate comment from the Iraqi authorities on the envoy’s remarks.

Since the nationwide anti-government protests gripped Iraq in October, more than 500 people have been killed and around 15,000 have been injured. The protesters have also called for an end to foreign interference, mainly from Iran and the United States.

At least nine people were wounded on Monday in Baghdad during renewed clashes between protesters and the security forces, police sources said. Two were wounded by birdshot and the rest suffered tear gas-related injuries.

On Sunday, Iraq’s deputy health minister said politicians in Baghdad had failed to address years of corruption and mismanagement, acknowledging the frustrations that have fuelled months of anti-government protests.

Prime minister-designate Mohammed Allawi said on Saturday a new government would be formed in the coming week.

Mr Allawi appealed to Iraqis for their support hours after his appointment by President Barham Salih earlier this month, but protesters have already rejected him as a stooge of the political elite.