On October 29th, protests continued in Iraq for the 5th straight day after a two-week hiatus. Masked gunmen opened fire at protesters in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, killing at least 18 and leaving hundreds injured, AP cited local officials.
AP claimed that protesters said they did not know if the masked men were riot police, special forces or Iran-linked militias. The report claims that Iraqi soldiers had been stationed around the protest site but withdrew after the attackers began firing tear gas and live ammunition.
Pro-government sources claim that this was a provocation.
There were differing accounts and death tolls from Karbala, and details were still emerging from the scene.
“We saw masked men dressed all in black and they fired live bullets toward the square,” an anonymous protester was cited by AP. “People fell dead and wounded right next to me. We tried to escape but when we fled into the alleys we ran into moving checkpoints set up by these forces. They arrested people and searched their phones for video of what had happened,” the individual added.
Al Jazeera reported that Karbala’s governor Naseef al-Khitaby denied that any masked gunmen opened fire at protesters.
“There are fabricated and false news making the rounds on social media about events that have not happened and casualties that have not occurred,” al-Khitaby told reporters.
Karbala’s police chief also denied in a statement that any protesters had been killed and said only one person died in an unrelated criminal incident.
He further said that footage of shots being fired at protesters shared on social media were fabricated and designed to “incite the street”.
The semi-official Iraq High Commission for Human Rights meanwhile said one person had been killed in the “events” in Karbala, while 142 members of the security forces and 50 protesters had been wounded.
Amnesty international blamed Iraqi security forces and quoted witnesses as saying the attackers ran down demonstrators with their vehicles. It said several demonstrators were detained and beaten.
“Iraqi forces opened live fire on peaceful protesters and resorted to excessive and often lethal force to disperse them in a reckless and utterly unlawful manner,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research director. “These scenes are all the more shocking as they come despite assurances from Iraqi authorities that there would be no repeat of the extreme violence used against demonstrators during protests earlier this month.”
Since the first batch of protests between October 1st and 9th, and then the subsequent return, upwards of 220 people have been killed, not including the ones in Karbala.
Shiite religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who backs the largest bloc in Iraq’s parliament and helped bring Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s coalition government to power, called for early elections.
On October 29th, he joined protesters in the southern city of Najaf and also invited the head of a rival political bloc to work with him on introducing in parliament a vote of no confidence in Abdul Mahdi.
Abdul Mahdi said he could not call an election unilaterally and that parliament must vote with an absolute majority to dissolve itself.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi attempted to address demonstrators demands by pledging to reshuffle his cabinet and deliver a package of reforms. That’s led to little to quell the demonstrations.
There was also a video uploaded to YouTube that alleges that Sarin gas was used against protesters in Karbala. This wild rumor is unconfirmed.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Protests In Iraq Continue, More Than 70 Killed By Security Forces In Three Days
- Iraqi Protests Continue Two Weeks. Over 150 People Dead