Police clashed with protesters in Baghdad on Monday after a few comparatively quiet days, resulting in 14 security troops suffering injuries from thrown rocks and complaints of excessive force leveled against police by the protesters.
As with several other protest movements around the world, the conflict appears to have begun when the protesters erected roadblocks in Baghdad and several other cities, and the police moved in to clear them away.
“A group of outlaw young people blocked the Muhammad al-Qasim highway on Monday at 8:30 am. Security forces reopened the highway, detained the group and transferred them to face justice,” said the authorities.
“A group of violent hooligans started to throw rocks at the security members who were stationed near Tahrir Square to protect the peaceful protesters,” the media arm of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) said when a battle broke out in the square at the heart of Baghdad.
According to the statement, several security troops were struck in the head by thrown rocks, while an officer was wounded in the leg.
The United Nations sounded doubtful of ISF claims that it was attempting to protect “peaceful protesters” in Tahrir Square when it was attacked by “hooligans” and obliged to defend itself.
“Violent suppression of peaceful protesters is intolerable and must be avoided at all costs. Nothing is more damaging than a climate of fear. Accountability and justice for victims is critical to building trust, legitimacy, and resilience,” said a statement from the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) on Monday.
U.N. Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert expressed her agency’s concern about “ongoing human rights violations” in Iraq.
“While there was public acknowledgment by all actors that urgent reform is needed, it is now high time to put these words into action and to avoid further derailing of these protests by those pursuing their own objectives, not wishing well for this country and its people,” Hennis-Plasschaert said in a statement that strongly sided with protesters against Iraq’s political and military elite.
Al Jazeera published unconfirmed reports that five protesters were killed on Monday in three different Iraqi cities. According to these reports, two of the deaths were caused by live ammunition in Baghdad.
“For months no one has listened to our demands. They are killing us. It’s just bloodshed,” one protester told Al Jazeera.
Protest leaders stated their intention to use more roadblocks as a method of getting the attention of Iraqi politicians, who missed a Monday deadline set by the protesters to begin implementing fundamental reforms.
“We demand the central government go to early elections and the nomination of a new independent prime minister. If that doesn’t happen, we will escalate and block all the highways and centres of the city,” a Baghdad demonstrator vowed.
“This is only the first escalation. We want to send a message to the government: Stop procrastinating. The people know what you’re doing,” another demonstrator told AFP as a wall of burning tires was erected across a major Baghdad bridge.