Protesters demanding a manual recount of the votes cast in the October 10 elections took to the streets of Baghdad on Friday evening.
The demonstration turned violent as Iraqi forces blocked the crowd’s way to the city’s heavily fortified Green Zone by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.
In a post on his Twitter account, Iraqi President Barham Salih expressed regret over the clashes, saying, “Peaceful demonstration is a constitutionally guaranteed right, and it is necessary not to deviate from its peaceful, legal framework.”
“The clashes between the security forces and the demonstrators are unfortunate and unacceptable, and the investigation should be followed up,” he added.
“Protecting public security is a national duty, and everyone must exercise restraint and put the national interest above all else.”
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environmental, 125 people, including 27 civilians and nearly one hundred security forces, were injured during the violence in central Baghdad.
Some reports said up to three people were killed in the confrontations.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met with security leaders on Friday evening, and ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the clashes.
A Joint Operations Command statement said that “the negligent will be brought to legal accountability for their negligence and violation of the explicit orders of the commander in chief, which stressed that live bullets should not be fired under any circumstances”.
Al-Kadhimi also ordered compensation for victims of the clashes and decided to personally supervise the progress of the investigation, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported.
Sadr rejects violence
Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose party won 73 seats to be the largest group in the country’s 329-strong parliament, issued a message to demonstrators.
“Peaceful demonstrations for the sake of electoral appeals should not turn into demonstrations of violence and belittle the state, just as the state should not resort to violence against peaceful demonstrators. A right guaranteed rationally, legally,” he said.
Referring to the anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi, Sadr added that, “Then I address my words to the demonstrators, and I say: The Popular Mobilization is a mobilization of jihad … their martyrs against terrorism are blood of glory and honor, and we will not forget them. So, preserve your history, and it (the government of the national majority) will be defending you, away from the domestic and foreign policy projects that want to harm you for the sake of their partisan and sectarian gains.”
PMU backs peaceful rallies
Additionally, the PMU released a statement to voice regret over “unfortunate events” in Baghdad and the “unjustified attacks on peaceful demonstrators.”
“We called on our brothers, the demonstrators, to adhere to the peaceful demonstrations to guarantee their rights, and we called on our brothers, the security forces to adhere to professionalism, avoid violence, and hold those responsible for today’s events to account,” the statement read.
“We support the rights of people to express their demands in a peaceful and civilized manner, but we reject some political parties’ attempts to involve our name in their political conflicts.”
The PMU also vowed to “remain – as we promised the Iraqis – the security institution that guarantees the security and sovereignty of Iraq, its people, and their democratic system in the face of all challenges and dangers.”
More reactions from political figures
Qais Khazali, secretary general of Iraq’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq resistance movement, blasted security forces for using arms in the face of peaceful demonstrators.
He also said that those who opened fire at the protesters and ordered shootings should be brought to justice for their actions.
The demonstrators, Khazali said, should exercise self-restraint and not allow the violation of their legitimate rights.
He further warned against attempts by some parties affiliated with intelligence agencies to storm into the Green Zone and pin the blame on resistance groups.
Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance in the Iraqi parliament, also strongly condemned attacks on protesters in Baghdad.
He urged security forces not to take up arms against their brothers, demanding the trial of all those behind the shedding of the blood of the Iraqi people.
Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who heads the State of Law Coalition, called on protesters to avoid tensions and instead pursue legal paths seeking transparency in the election results.