Two unnamed Iraqi security officials told Reuters on Thursday that snipers from Iran-backed militia units were employed to kill civilians during the massive protests that erupted in the first week of October.
According to these sources, Shiite militia groups allied with Iran decided to start murdering protesters on their own initiative, in a bid to support the Iran-friendly but highly unpopular administration of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi:
“We have confirmed evidence that the snipers were elements of militias reporting directly to their commander instead of the chief commander of the armed forces,” said one of the Iraqi security sources. “They belong to a group that is very close to the Iranians.”
A second Iraqi security source, who attended daily government security briefings, said militia men clad in black shot protesters on the third day of unrest, when the death toll soared to more than 50 from about half a dozen. The fighters were directed by Abu Zainab al-Lami, head of security for the Hashid [Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces], a grouping of mostly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitaries backed by Iran, the second source said. The Hashid leader was tasked with quashing the protests by a group of other senior militia commanders, the source said. The sources did not say how many snipers were deployed by militia groups.
A spokesman for the militia group denied the report, insisting “none of the elements of the PMF took part in confronting protesters.” The Iraqi Interior Ministry denied there was a deliberate plan to kill protesters with sniper fire and blamed the deaths on “vicious” killers of uncertain identity.
However, at least one senior militia commander was willing to tell Reuters his forces “jumped in” to support the Baghdadi government at the height of the unrest.
“Iranian advisors insisted on having a role and warned us that the ongoing protests, if not reversed, will undermine the government of Abdul Mahdi,” the commander said.
Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi’s office said an investigation is still underway, so it would be “premature to lay the blame on any parties, whether from Hashid or other security forces.”
The snipers were seen plying their deadly trade from the rooftops of Baghdad by some journalists, including those working for Reuters, but they wore masks and unmarked dark clothing, making their affiliation difficult to determine.
Reuters pointed out there was definitely cooperation between Abdul Mahdi’s government and Iran’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) during the protests, including consultations with “senior Revolutionary Guard officers with experience in curbing civil unrest.” The IRGC has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
The death toll during Iraqi protests was well over a hundred, plus over 6,000 injuries, about 1,200 of them sustained by security forces. Protesters claimed they had video evidence of government forces perpetrating atrocities against them, but were prevented from sharing that evidence by an Internet blackout.
The protests have not been exclusively Sunni Muslims complaining about the Shiite-dominated government. Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday urged his followers to “mobilize by the millions” to protest corruption in the Baghdad government – plus, of course, his usual hate fetishes, America and Israel.
“March draped in your shrouds … and chant on Arbaeen: No to America! No to Israel! No to the corrupt!” Sader said on Twitter, referring to the annual Arbaeen pilgrimage to the Iraqi city of Karbala, the largest such event in Shia Islam.