BAGHDAD — Iraq’s military admitted on Monday that “excessive force” was used in a district of the capital overnight where a mass protest led to clashes that medics and security forces said left 13 people dead.
“Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts,” the military said in a statement.
It was the first time since protests broke out on Tuesday that security forces acknowledged using disproportionate measures, while protesters had accused them of firing live rounds directly at them. This past week’s protests have left more than 100 dead and thousands wounded.
Hundreds had gathered overnight in Sadr City, a densely populated district in eastern Baghdad where state security forces are rarely seen.
There’s still utter chaos in Baghdad. It’s turning into an all-out revolt. Security forces are overtly trying to kill protesters – here firing what seems to be an RPG straight at them. pic.twitter.com/FApfKc8gMk
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) October 6, 2019
On videos distributed on social media of the late-night rally, protesters ducked in streets littered with burning tires as heavy gunfire was heard.
Security sources and medics said the clashes left 13 people dead overnight.
In a statement distributed to journalists on Monday morning, the Iraqi military said Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi had ordered “all army units to withdraw from Sadr City to be replaced with federal police units.”
He called on all forces to abide by the “rules of engagement” in dealing with rallies, it added.
In his only address to the protesters last week, Abdel Mahdi had insisted security forces were acting “within international standards” in dealing with demonstrations.
Spontaneous rallies, which began Tuesday, started as mostly young demonstrators took to the streets demanding jobs, improved services like electricity and water, and an end to corruption in the oil-rich country.
“There’s no electricity, no jobs, people are dying of starvation, and people are sick. It is a curse,” said one young protester, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.
— Steven nabil (@thestevennabil) October 6, 2019
In the first official statement from the government accounting for the violence, Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan said Sunday that 104 people had been killed in the six days of unrest, including eight members of the security forces, and more than 6,000 wounded. He said an investigation was under way to determine who was behind the most deadly day of violence, in Baghdad on Friday.
The unrest is the most serious challenge facing Iraq two years after the victory against Islamic State fighters. The chaos also comes at a critical time for the government, which has been caught in the middle of increasing US-Iran tensions in the region. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of US troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.