Iraq’s top Shiite cleric blamed the Baghdad government on Friday for the killing of scores of protesters, and gave it a two-week deadline to find out which "undisciplined elements" had used snipers to shoot them. The intervention by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who rarely weighs in on politics except in times of crisis, will place new pressure on Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to curb the power of Iran-backed Shiite militias, widely blamed by the public for killing protesters during the crackdown.
Sistani “demands that the government investigate to find out which elements gave orders to shoot protesters, whatever their affiliation,” a representative of the cleric said during a sermon in the holy city of Kerbala. He denounced the use of snipers to quell unrest and gave the government a two week deadline to find out who had given orders to shoot, whether they were state security personnel or "undisciplined elements." The cleric also criticized attacks on journalists, after unidentified gunmen raided the offices of several TV stations and at least two other reporters were snatched and briefly detained by unidentified security personnel.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that at least 105 protesters had been killed and another 4,050 wounded since the protests began Oct. 1. On Oct. 6, the Interior Ministry put the number killed at 96, with 6,100 wounded. The violence, Iraq’s worst since a Daesh insurgency was put down in 2017, has been PM Abdul Mahdi’s biggest test after a year in office. Snipers fired from rooftops at crowds of demonstrators during the crackdown. Protesters were killed and wounded by shots to the head, neck and chest during some of the worst violence last week, according to reports.
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