Senior US official says non-local actors involved in Iraq protest arrests

Senior US official says non-local actors involved in Iraq protest arrests
Senior US official says non-local actors involved in Iraq protest arrests

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A senior US official on Monday said foreign elements outside of Iraq were partially responsible for the arrest of hundreds of protesters, in a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.

Speaking at State Department briefing, the official pointed to outside actors when asked about the spike in the numbers of those arrested and jailed in Iraq.

He said the perpetrators “are not all local.”

“We know what’s happening in all of these places with – I can’t say for sure who’s doing it, but they’re not all local, let’s just put it that way,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

Two human rights groups, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and the Iraqi Warcrimes Documentation Centre, revealed this week that an armed Iraqi militia kidnapped at least 300 demonstrators from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and is holding them in a secret prisons.

Another report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) suggested on Monday that the Iraqi government appeared to be complicit in a massacre committed against the protesters on December 6.

“Unidentified armed forces, apparently in cooperation with Iraqi national and local security forces, carried out a brutal spate of killings in Baghdad’s main protest area,” the organisation said. “Estimates range between 29 and 80 dead, and 137 injured.”

Citing five witnesses, HRW said 1,000 protesters were present in Baghdad’s al Khilani Square that night, 600 meters north of Tahrir Square, and in al Senak Garage, a five-story parking garage just off al Khilani Square.

“Electricity to the area was cut during the attack…police and military forces withdrew as the unidentified militia, some in uniforms, began shooting,” the organisation said.

More than 500 people have been killed in Iraq since the protests started early October. The US has sanctioned several Iraqi militia leaders this month, who are close to Iran and are accused of heavy involvement in the crackdown.

Nicholas Heras, a senior fellow at the Centre for New American Security, told The National: “the US assesses that Iran is mobilising its transnational network of operatives in Iraq.”

He said this includes militants with the Lebanese group Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, fighters from Afghanistan and Iranian agents.

“Iran has achieved a big enough force of operatives that they feel comfortable to reply them against Iraqis,” Mr Heras said.

Updated: December 17, 2019 03:11 AM

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