Protesters being killed by tear gas canisters is 'gruesome pattern': HRW

Tear gas is fired during clashes between anti-government protesters and Iraqi security forces near Tahrir Square in Baghdad on November 1. (Photo:AFP/DPA)

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SULAIMANI — Human Rights Watch (HRW) has characterized Iraqi protesters being killed by tear gas canisters fired by the security forces as a “gruesome pattern” and called on the police and military to exercise restraint during the protests.

In a report released on Friday (November 8), the rights watchdog said that at least sixteen people have been killed by tear gas canisters deployed by the security forces since October 25. The report corroborates many of the findings of an Amnesty International report released on October 31.

HRW also urged Iraq’s international partners, including the US, European countries, and Iran, to end assistance to units involved in violations against protesters and publicly condemn the actions of the security forces.

“The high death toll includes people who took direct hits to the head from teargas cartridges, in numbers that suggest a gruesome pattern rather than isolated accidents,” said HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a press release.

“With the death toll now at over 100, all of Iraq’s global partners should be unequivocal in their condemnation,” she added.

More than 250 people have been killed since protests began on October 1. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), 97 people were killed between October 25 and November 4, while the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) has said that 105 people have been killed, the vast majority of whom have been protesters. Thousands have been injured.

According to the report, one Reuters video clip reviewed by HRW appeared to show a member of the security forces firing a tear gas canister directly at a group of protesters only a short distance away on a flat trajectory, suggesting intent to harm rather than to disperse.

The Amnesty International report said that the security forces were deploying unusually heavy canisters, which were resulting in “horrific” injuries to protesters, especially when striking the head.

However, in an update to its initial findings released on Thursday, Amnesty International now says that a type of tear gas grenade used by the Iraqi security forces was not Bulgarian in origin, but had been produced by Defense Industries Organization (DIO) of Iran.

In urging Iraq’s international partners to condemn the actions of the security forces, HRW noted that, while most assistance has focused on military and counterterrorism operations, Italy, France, and the US have all provided some training on crowd control.

“Given Iraq’s history of civil unrest and international training not only for military operations but also for crowd control, Iraqi authorities should not get a free pass for misusing teargas as a lethal weapon instead of a crowd dispersal method,” Whitson said in the press release.

The recent protests in Iraq have taken place in two waves and focused mainly on Baghdad and central and southern Iraq. Protesters initially urged the government to do more to fight corruption, provide job opportunities, and improve public services, but have shifted to calling on the government to resign and hold early elections.

(NRT Digital Media)