Iraq: First periodic report on violations during ongoing popular demonstrations


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) strongly condemns the Iraqi government’s flagrant failure to fulfill its constitutional obligations to protect the right to peaceful assembly. In the past two weeks, the security forces, including riot police, shock forces, federal police forces and other forces with various names, in addition to paramilitaries acting under the eyes of the security forces, have used lethal force, including live bullets, shotgun pellets, sound bombs and tear gas to directly target peaceful demonstrators in most central and southern cities of the country.

These flagrant violations of the rights of Iraqi demonstrators have led to the death toll of the popular protests increasing to 650 demonstrators, while the number of injured exceeded 20,000, including those who suffocated from teargas, according to unofficial statistics for some civil society organisations. In addition, there are nearly 150 detainees, most of whom were arrested in the cities of Baghdad, Nasiriyah and Basra.

Attacks on Demonstrations

Deadly force was used against demonstrations in the commercial streets, Umm Al-Brom Square, Al-Bahriya Square, and Al-Ashar in downtown Basra. Witnesses reported that some of the demonstrators were tortured and whipped by the shock forces in the city.

These illegal practices against demonstrators, which included the use of live ammunition, were repeated by the security forces carrying out violence alongside armed civilian individuals aimed at suppressing peaceful demonstrations in the sit-in squares and various areas of the cities of Nasiriyah, especially in Al-Haboubi Square, Al-Nasr Bridge, and Fahd Bridge, Najaf, Karbala, the Al-Mafraq Bridge in Baquba, Al-Diwaniyah, Al-Haidariya intersection in Al-Samawa, and near the Education Directorate in the city of Kut.

In the capital, Baghdad, demonstrators were targeted in Al-Sinak Bridge, Al-Tayaran Square near Al-Kilani Petrol Station, Mohammed Al-Qasim Bridge and the Mohammad Al-Qasim Highway, Al-Dora, near the Al-Mechanic Bridge, and the Al-Bataween area, Al-Khilani Square, Al-Wathba Square, and the heart of Iraqi Demonstrations, Al-Tahrir Square, where the security forces, including the riot police, tried to break up sit-ins with the power of bullets and the heavy use of tear gas and shotgun pellets.

Reliable local sources confirmed to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) that the riot police and federal police forces, during the last two weeks,  pursued and arrested demonstrators on the Mohammad Al-Qasim highway, and several videos documented these forces shooting from close range directly at the heads of the demonstrators, which led to many victims falling down dead and wounded. In addition, members of these forces threw some demonstrators from the Mohammad Al-Qasim bridge, severely injuring them and leaving them in serious condition. They are currently receiving treatment.

These forces also, during the last two weeks, destroyed a number of Tuk Tuk vehicles and arrested their owners, near Al-Nahda Garage. In many cases, activists of Al-Tahrir Square were subjected to detention, torture, beatings, and the confiscation of personal property by riot police in the Mohammad Al-Qasim Highway near Al-Khilani Square before they were allowed to return to Al-Tahrir Square.

Students in large numbers participated extensively in the demonstrations, taking the front lines in various Iraqi protest cities. They also staged a sit-in in front of the Directorates of Education and Universities, as well as the Ministry of Higher Education, demanding comprehensive reform aiming to build a legitimate Iraqi state. They were targeted by the security forces who used truncheons and tear gas against them, as well as sometimes being assaulted by armed groups operating outside the law with sticks and batons.

On 27 January 2020 at dawn, paramilitaries in more than 10 white pickups, along with some saloon cars, attacked Al-Haboubi Square in Nasiriyah from three access points, randomly firing live ammunition and burning all sit-in tents and destroying their contents, including pictures, books, and other materials. The security forces did nothing to protect the demonstrators, before or during the militia attack.

As a result of the attack, peaceful demonstrator Abadi Hassan Zuwair Al-Asadi (pictured on the left), was killed and 18 demonstrators were wounded, four of them by live ammunition, while others suffocated due to the fire that badly damaged the neighboring buildings. Demonstrators in Nasiriyah spent the night removing all traces of the fire and rebuilding the protest camp, using bricks to fortify their tents (see main picture).