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Iraq PM: Armed groups who shoot protesters will face justice

Armed groups who attack protesters will face justice, Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi vowed on Monday following a weekend of renewed unrest.

Kadhimi released a statement on Monday promising to pursue those responsible for killing protesters during the wave of demonstrations, which began last October.

His comments follow an Iraqi army operation in Basra province early on Monday which saw several armed men arrested for allegedly shooting at protesters on Sunday night.

At least one protester was killed and several more wounded when armed men fired down on them from a nearby building.

“I ordered today a dawn military raid to arrest everyone involved in the recent attack against protesters in Basra,” Kadhimi tweeted.

“The security forces implemented the military raid and arrested the armed groups. I would like to thank the fair judiciary and the heroes of the security forces,” he said.

“We promised that those involved in [spilling] the blood of Iraqis will not sleep at night. We will keep this promise. Peaceful protest is a common obligation and everyone should follow it,” he added.

Kadhimi, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, did not identify the group involved. Pro-Iran militias have been widely accused of abducting and murdering activists in an attempt to intimidate the movement into silence.

In a tweet on its official account, the Iraqi government said: “With direct oversight by Commander-in-Chief PM [@MAKadhimi], Iraqi security forces today conducted a dawn raid on a building in Basra province from which bullets were fired earlier at demonstrators, killing one protester and injuring others.”

According to videos circulating on social media, armed groups opened fire on protesters late on Sunday night in Basra city as they marched toward the governorate building.

Another video circulating on social media shows a blood soaked protester with a gunshot wound to his head.

Before the coronavirus pandemic placed the country on lockdown, Iraq had been rocked by months of nationwide unrest as overwhelmingly young crowds demanded jobs, services, and action against corruption.

At least 600 protesters and members of the security forces were killed and more than 18,000 injured over the months since the movement emerged in October, according to human rights monitor Amnesty International.

On Friday, Amnesty urged Kadhimi to prioritize human rights, take  action on domestic violence, protect communities accused of  collaborating with the Islamic State (ISIS) while under the group’s control, and launch  “thorough and independent investigations” into the killing of protesters.

Kadhimi was sworn into office in the early hours of Thursday morning. In his first cabinet meeting on Saturday, the new PM decreed the Supreme Judicial Council to release of all protesters detained by the former government.

“Following the decision by the Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on 9/5/2020, the Supreme Judicial Council directed all the courts in Iraq to release all protesters who were detained in the past months,” the order reads.

Young Iraqi protesters returned to the streets of Baghdad and other southern cities on Saturday night to oppose Kadhimi’s new government, which they see as a continuity of the old establishment.

Protesters regrouped and spilled into the streets of southern cities before the seismic wave reached the capital itself on Sunday morning.

Tahrir Square, long the epicenter of the Baghdad protests, was again packed with protesters, reminiscent of scenes of unrest seen months earlier.

Activists surged towards nearby Jimhuriyah Bridge, which leads to the fortified Green Zone where government ministries and foreign diplomatic missions are housed.

The resumption of protests was widely expected, as few of the movement’s demands have actually been met and public anger continues to simmer.

Sporadic unrest is likely to continue until Kadhimi calls fresh nationwide elections and those who fired on protesters are identified and brought to justice. Source