Iraq: 'street filled with blood', as security forces kill 25 at Nasiriyah protest

More than 300 people have been killed in a month of protests, which has seen the security forces repeatedly using lethal force against unarmed protesters © Getty Images

Eyewitnesses describe security forces shooting to kill in bridge protest attack

‘It is like an execution, direct shooting at the head’ - eyewitness to the violence

‘This bloodbath must stop now’ - Lynn Maalouf

A range of different security forces descended on protesters in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah overnight, killing at least 25 people and injuring scores more by this morning, Amnesty International has confirmed, after interviewing eyewitnesses and verifying a dozen videos and images from the scene. 

Amnesty is urging the Iraqi authorities to urgently rein in the security forces, amid reports of ongoing use of live ammunition against protesters in Nasiriyah this afternoon.

Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps has verified footage showing troops charging as they fired at protesters with what appeared to be automatic weapons near the city’s al-Zaitoon bridge. Other verified videos show protesters running from gunfire, or screaming in fear or anguish, as well as tending to those killed or wounded in the violence.

At least 25 people were killed, and scores injured, in the overnight violence, according to a credible source who spoke to Amnesty on condition of anonymity. 

One eyewitness told Amnesty that protesters had been demonstrating peacefully in the areas around al-Nasr and al-Zaitoon bridges when, at around 3am local time, members of the SWAT, anti-riot and other security forces arrived with a bulldozer to break through the protesters’ barricade. He described the violence that ensued:

“They opened fire non-stop. They retook the bridge within five minutes … because they would not stop firing and people were running away. I saw at least five people die in front of me. Anyone who was shot and killed was left behind because the forces beat anyone they caught. I saw them beat people like they wanted to kill them. It was a catastrophe … They ended up herding and chasing the remaining protesters towards al-Habboobi Square which is the traditional place for the protests … The shooting was continuous until 7am. More people died near an area called Tarbiya close to al-Habboobi.”

The same man said local residents, angered by the violence, threw stones at the security forces and set fire to the local headquarters of the Federal Police Emergency Response. 

Another eyewitness said he went to the area near the bridges shortly after 3am to film the protests. He too described a range of security forces firing large amounts of tear gas and live ammunition, apparently to kill rather than disperse protesters. He said: 

“They were shooting straight at the protesters but also at the ground. People were being shot in their chest and necks. Most injuries are from the head, chest, neck … there is news that there were snipers. It is like an execution, direct shooting at the head … We were responding to the injuries and the deaths, the street was filled with blood.”

Local residents told Amnesty that protesters had been gathered in the al-Nasr and al-Zaitoon bridges area since last weekend. On Saturday, anti-riot police shot at the protesters, killing two people and injuring 15. Since then the situation had been largely calm until last night.

Meanwhile, according to the NGO Netblocks, internet connectivity in Nasiriyah dropped significantly at around 5:30am this morning, coinciding with the violent crackdown.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:

“The scenes from Nasiriyah this morning more closely resemble a war zone than city streets and bridges. 

“This brutal onslaught is just the latest in a long series of deadly events where the Iraqi security forces meted out appalling violence against largely peaceful protesters.

“With well over 300 protesters now dead across Iraq since 1 October, and thousands more injured or arrested, this bloodbath must stop now.

“The international community must speak loudly and clearly, pressing for Iraq to rein in the security forces.”

1 October protests

On 1 October, two weeks of nationwide protests over unemployment, corruption and poor public services broke out in Iraq. Protests resumed on the night of 24 October in Baghdad and other provinces, including Karbala, Basra, Babel and Diwaniya. 

From the outset of the protests, Amnesty has documented the excessive - and in dozens of cases - lethal use of force by the security forces to disperse protesters, including with military-grade “smoker” tear gas grenades, live ammunition and deadly sniper attacks

Amnesty has also documented a relentless campaign of intimidation and assault against activists in Baghdad, including enforced disappearances. 

Most recently, Amnesty has documented the destruction of medical equipment and tents in Baghdad, as the security forces charged several bridges and streets near Tahrir Square to force protesters from the area. Amnesty continues to receive reports of excessive force used to disperse protesters and fresh arrests.

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