As Iraq braces for fresh protests on Friday, a government committee investigating a wave of unrest found that 157 people, mostly civilians, were killed because security forces used excessive force and live fire to quell protests, according to a report by the panel seen by Reuters.
"The committee found that officers and commanders lost control over their forces during the protests [and this] caused chaos," the panel said in its report. The capital accounted for 111 of the dead, nearly all of whom were protesters, the inquiry found.
It said the committee found evidence of sniper fire targeting protesters from inside a building in central Baghdad. "The committee found during its field investigation shells from a sniper rifle inside an abandoned building near a petrol station in central Baghdad," the report said. Around 70% of the deaths were caused by bullet wounds "to the head or chest.”
It said 149 civilians and eight members of the security forces were killed before the unrest subsided on Oct. 7. Protesters plan to resume rallies on Friday. It recommended that the Baghdad operations commander in charge of the response to the unrest and dozens of other senior security officials be dismissed.
The protests began spontaneously on Oct. 1 in Baghdad and across southern cities, without public support from any major political faction in Iraq. They escalated and grew more violent, spreading from cities in the south to other areas, mainly populated by members of the Shiite majority whose parties hold political power but say their communities have been neglected for decades. The unrest poses an unprecedented challenge for Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who took office last year as a consensus candidate of powerful Shiite religious parties that have dominated the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
It was the second time the Iraqis poured into the streets since 2018. Last year, huge demonstrations broke out in almost the same areas, from the southern provinces to the capital Baghdad, with the same demands. Even though the protests were triggered by frequent electricity cuts, most of the Iraqi people had drawn attention to the corruption that makes them unable to reap the benefit of the country’s huge resources. According to official figures, about $450 billion in public funds have disappeared into the pockets of politicians and businessmen since 2004.