Iraq PM orders probe after two protesters killed in clashes

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s Prime Minister said on Monday he had ordered an investigation into the killing of two anti-government protesters, saying security forces were not authorised to fire “a single bullet” toward the demonstrators. Twenty-one protesters were also wounded in the overnight clashes.

Separately, four katyusha rockets landed in Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, which houses United States-led coalition troops, according to three Iraqi security officials. One official said the rockets targetted a runway used by Iraqi helicopters, close to where American forces are present. One helicopter was damaged. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The violence comes after months of quiet in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and were an embarrassment to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has vowed to meet protester demands by holding early elections and investigating the death of hundreds of protesters at the hands of security forces in recent months.

Tensions between the security forces and the demonstrators soared late last Sunday when dozens of protesters cut the road connecting two main intersections — Tayaran Square and Tahrir Square — in the capital Baghdad.

Iraq is facing electricity shortages amid searing summer temperatures that can top 50 degrees Celsius. A senior Electricity Ministry official said the power supply fell short by 10,000 megawatts this summer, down 1,000 megawatts compared to last year, due to lack of maintenance in several power plants because of lack of funds in state coffers. This has also slowed investment projects to add more power to Iraq’s grid, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

“Every bullet directed our youth and our people while demanding their rights is a bullet directed at our dignity and principles,” al-Kadhimi said in a televised speech on Monday evening. He said he had ordered a probe and requested to have the facts before him within 72 hours.

Al-Kadhimi said there is no “magic solution” for Iraq’s electricity problem, which is a result of decades of corruption and mismanagement and “cannot be resolved overnight”. He said his government was working on a solution, and reiterated his intention to pave the way for early elections in line with protesters’ demands.

Iraqi demonstrators clash with security forces in al-Tayaran square in central Baghdad. PHOTO: AFP