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Senior Military Officer Accused of Crackdown on Protesters in Iraq

The Case Against Omar Nazar a Critical Moment for Accountability

As part of a funeral procession, people transport the coffin of a protester killed at a Baghdad demonstration, November 24, 2019.  © 2019 Reuters/Khalid al-Mousily

Criminal proceedings were launched this week against Lt. Col. Omar Nazar, a senior Iraqi officer accused of abuses connected to a crackdown on protesters in 2019.

The case, launched February 22 in the Nasiriyah Investigation Court, is significant not only because it is one of the few instances the authorities have pursued a senior security officer for crimes committed against civilians, but also because of the failure of previous governments to take action.

Nazar was a member of Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s Emergency Response Division (ERD), which was deployed against ISIS and also in response to widespread protests in 2019 and 2020.

In 2016 and 2017, Kurdish photojournalist Ali Arkady embedded with ERD units, during battles against ISIS in Fallujah and in Mosul. In May 2017, after fleeing the country, Arkady published photos and videos that apparently showed members of ERD units, including Nazar, committing abuses. This is not the subject of the current investigation.

Days after the publication of this evidence, Nazar appeared in a video posted on YouTube and Facebook at the home of one man whose torture by another ERD unit was captured in Arkady’s photos and videos, and had the man deny the torture on camera. In statements to the media after the Arkady publication, Nazar did not deny abuses happened. He remained in a command position until now.  

On February 11, Nazar was arrested and is now being prosecuted “on charges of suppressing demonstrators.”

This arrest is an important first step toward accountability, but arrests for mass killings of protesters and other serious human rights abuses shouldn’t stop here and should never be limited to cases where leaked investigations are made public.

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