Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has established a commission to investigate the deaths of more than 100 people in recent anti-government protests.
In a statement on Saturday, Abdul Mahdi said the inquiry panel will investigate and bring to justice soldiers who acted illegally and will include representatives from the armed forces, parliament, the human rights commission and the judiciary.
Iraq’s Human Rights Commission said at least 108 people were killed and more than 6,000 wounded from October 1 to 6, during nationwide protests against corruption, lack of jobs and poor public services.
The vast majority of the casualties were protesters who were shot by live rounds. Many were killed and wounded by shots to the head, neck and chest.
Authorities have blamed “unidentified snipers”. But human rights advocates hold security forces responsible for the bloodshed: Either by firing themselves or not protecting protesters from snipers who infiltrated the demonstrations.
So far, authorities have accepted responsibility for two incidents.
They have acknowledged that the military had used “excessive force” in the Shia bastion of Sadr City in Baghdad and argue that anti-riot police were responsible for the killing of a protester in Babylon, south of the capital.
Abdul Mahdi’s office said the creation of the inquiry commission was in response to a sermon on Friday by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader for Iraq’s Shia majority.
Al-Sistani, who rarely weighs in on politics except in times of crisis, upped the pressure on authorities saying the Iraqi government and security forces are “responsible for the bloodshed” during the recent protests.
“The government is responsible when, under the eye of law enforcement, protesters are fired on illegally and media are beaten or attacked to terrorise their employees,” he said.
Al-Sistani, who wields significant power to influence the government, gave authorities “two weeks” to find out who had given orders to shoot – whether they were state security personnel or “undisciplined elements” and to release the findings.
The leader also criticised attacks on journalists, after unidentified gunmen raided the offices of several TV stations and at least two other reporters were briefly held, also by unidentified security personnel.
Following al-Sistani’s speech, Abdul Mahdi’s office announced that nine senior officials were referred to the judiciary for a corruption investigation, including two former ministers, two deputy ministers and four former provincial governors.
Iraq‘s military command also said it was carrying out a separate inquiry into the protests and is expected to shed light on the deaths and those wounded as well as the attacks on public buildings and raids by unidentified gunmen on media.
The protests come one year after Abdul Mahdi took office in Iraq, which is still grappling with a lengthy US-backed military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group.
The violence, Iraq’s worst since the ISIL rebellion was put down in 2017, has been Abdul Mahdi’s biggest test.
The new inquiry commissions, however, are unlikely to quell public anger at a corrupt political class which Iraqis say has failed to improve their lives even in peacetime, two years after ISIL was declared defeated.