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‘Outlawed’ armed groups ‘seeking chaos’ at Baghdad protests: interior ministry

Iraq’s interior ministry has called on protesters in Baghdad to cooperate with  authorities to identify the “outlawed” armed groups which aim to create chaos in Iraq.

In an official statement published by Iraqi state media on Tuesday morning, the ministry accused armed groups of being behind the death of two protesters and injury of several others near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Sunday.

“Our security units monitored the situation, and in light of the preliminary investigation results of the events of Sunday night, we observed that dangerous criminal groups in Tahrir Square are seeking to create chaos by beating protesters within the crowd and fabricating clashes,” the statement read.

The statement also called on protesters to “cooperate” with security forces in Tahrir Square to identify the outlawed armed groups who are aiming to drive the country into a “dangerous position.”

“We assure the security forces’ commitment to the order of the Iraqi Commander-in-Chief [Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi] for not using live ammunition against protesters,” it added.

Protesters demanding electricity and basic services near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Sunday night battled live ammunition and tear gas canisters used by security forces to disperse the crowds.

Speaking to the nation on state television, Kadhimi announced an investigation into violent clashes between protesters and security forces on Sunday night.

Security forces have “72 hours to reveal the results and outcomes of the investigations of the Sunday night incident near Tahrir Square in Baghdad,” said Kadhimi. “Demonstrating is a legal right of all Iraqis and security forces have to protect them.”

Clashes resumed in Tayaran Square near Tahrir Square Monday evening, as protesters and security forces battle for control of the square.

Unconfirmed reports on Telegram groups popular with demonstrators claim that one protester, Sajad Haidar, was killed after clashing with security forces at the scene.

Iraqi activist Mohammed al-Tamimi told Rudaw on Monday that he sees parallels to Sunday night’s violence against demonstrators with that of previous administrations.

“What we witnessed yesterday in Tahrir Square by Kadhimi’s government was similar to what we used to face during the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi,” he said from Tahrir Square, referring to Kadhimi’s predecessor who resigned as PM late last year.

Yehia Rasool, spokesperson for the commander-in-chief said a number of security forces were also wounded on Sunday.

Security forces are “committed to protecting peaceful demonstrators” upon orders from their superiors and will refrain from violence “except in cases of extreme necessity,” he tweeted early Monday.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) condemned the violence, saying “Iraqis are in a difficult place facing many challenges. Their right to peaceful protest must be protected unconditionally.”

Mass protests erupted across central and southern Iraq in October 2019, with overwhelmingly young crowds demanding jobs, services, and action against corruption. When demonstrators began to be killed by security forces and pro-Iran militias, activists began demanding an end to foreign interference in Iraqi affairs and called for the overthrow of the political elite.

Approximately 600 have been killed and more than 18,000 injured since October, according to human rights monitor Amnesty International. Source