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Iraqi army commanders sacked as new official protest death toll released

The official death toll from anti-government protests in Iraq is 157 [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 22 October, 2019

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The inquiry tasked with investigating the use of 'excessive force' against protesters announced the dismissal of commanders across Iraq's security forces.
The death toll from week-long anti-government protests that erupted in the Iraqi capital and other cities at the start of the month totalled 157, an official inquiry found on Tuesday.

Baghdad accounted for 111 of the dead, nearly all of whom were protesters, the inquiry found.

Around 70 percent of the deaths were caused by bullet wounds "to the head or chest", according to the findings, published as Iraq braces for fresh protests on Friday.

The official toll included 149 civilians and eight members of the security forces killed between October 1 and 6, during protests in Baghdad and across southern provinces.

Four security personnel were killed in Baghdad, where clashes initially centred around the iconic Tahrir Square after protesters rallied to demand jobs, services and an end to corruption. 

Later unrest in the capital culminated in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City, which faced a bloody night of violence.

Authorities formed a high commission of inquiry to investigate, after initially only acknowledging security forces used excessive force in just a few instances.

In its report, the inquiry blamed some deaths on security forces, but also mentioned other "shooters", without identifying them.

Read also: Iran-backed militias deployed snipers to quash anti-government protests

From the start, authorities accused "unidentified snipers" posted on rooftops overlooking protesters and security forces for deaths.

The report revealed that officials incited the use of violence against demonstrators, but said "there were no official orders to use violence against the demonstrators".

The inquiry also announced the dismissal of commanders across the security forces, including from the army, police, anti-terror, anti-riot, anti-crime, intelligence and national security units.

The commanders were stationed in Baghdad and provinces south of the capital including Diwaniyah, Misan, Babylon, Wasit, Najaf and Dhi Qar.

Their dismissal must be confirmed by Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who faces public pressure ahead of the first anniversary of his cabinet on Friday, when fresh protests are expected.

Read more: Why are people protesting in Iraq?

Human rights groups and Iraqis able to post on social media - inaccessible without a virtual private network (VPN) application - accuse security forces of responsibility for protester deaths, either by firing themselves or by failing to protect demonstrators from snipers.

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