As protests in Iraq enter their third month, the numbers of arrests, abductions, and killings of protesters continue to rise. But instead of protecting the demonstrators mostly peacefully protesting on Iraq’s streets, some security forces are the ones attacking and killing them. Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi had promised in a letter to Human Rights Watch that security forces would no longer use live ammunition against protesters, before announcing his own resignation on November 29. But killings and abductions of protesters have continued.
Since the beginning of these protests, Human Rights Watch has also documented unidentified armed men attacking protesters while the state security forces apparently stand by. Last week alone, these unidentified actors abducted one protester in Baghdad and opened fire on another in Karbala, killing him.
Early on December 6, Zaid Mohammed Abd Ali, 23, a photographer who attended the protests daily in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, was abducted from outside his house, his brother said. The family’s CCTV camera footage from that morning shows four men, one with a gun, get out of a car and grab Ali as he was arriving home. They hit him, put him in the car, and drove away. The family went straight to the police, but officers said they needed to wait 24 hours after the incident before they could open a missing persons complaint. The police opened a complaint the next day and told Ali’s family they are reviewing the CCTV footage but have provided no other information on their supposed investigation.
On December 8, a gunman on the back of a motorcycle shot and killed Fahem al-Tai, 53, a protester in Karbala. Timestamped footage from a street camera showed the entire attack unfold. Human Rights Watch reviewed the footage and spoke to a friend who was with al-Tai at the time of the attack. He said the police had not yet contacted him, despite his presence at the scene.
Reports emerged on December 11 of another two activists – one a well-known environmentalist – who have gone missing.
The Iraqi government needs to start protecting its citizens, by ending its own security force’s unlawful violence against protesters, and taking effective action against the groups now attacking them. This means taking urgent action to find anyone abducted by these groups, and arresting and prosecuting anyone responsible for murder and other crimes. Otherwise, the death toll will continue to climb, and Iraq’s next prime minister and cabinet will face a Herculean task in restoring the rule of law.