Iraq’s Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari recently gave an interview with France 24. That made headlines because he said that the tear gas canisters used against the protests in Iraq were not bought by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). That missed his main comment however, which was the police and army were not behind the shooting of demonstrators. This was the latest attempt by the government to deny responsibility for the 300 plus people that have been killed since the start of October when social unrest returned to the country.
On November 16, Iraq’s Defense Minister Najah Shammari gave an interview with France 24 on the on going protests. He claimed that the tear gas being used against the demonstrators that killed dozens of people was not bought by the Iraqi forces. This immediately raised speculation that he meant the pro-Iran Hashd had purchased the gas from Tehran. More importantly, he said that Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi gave orders that no weapons be used against the protesters and that command was followed. Instead, he told France 24 that an unnamed third party was behind the violence and that 200 warrants were out for their arrest. Minister Shammari’s statements stand in the face of various video footage and human rights groups’ that all showed that the ISF were firing directly at protesters in Baghdad and other provinces. In the capital for example, the army, the anti-riot police, and the Rapid Reaction forces are all deployed around the protest site in Tahrir Square. In fact, the same day Shammari gave his interview the commander of the Rapid Reaction Division General Thamir al-Husseini said that the military was the one killing people with tear gas canisters, which was another example of trying to pass along blame.
The Abdul Mahdi government has attempted to discredit the demonstrations, while denying that it has tried to suppress them. The PM’s main spokesman General Abdul Kareem Khalaf for instance, has issued a number of statements that the demonstrators are vandals, that they were building bombs, and that the ISF have never shot anyone. Defense Minister Shammari’s interview with France 24 was part of this campaign. To believe him there are elements operating alongside the army and police shooting people with warrants out for them, and yet no one has stopped them. The government has already been discredited for its violent response to the social unrest. These types of claims just make the administration look worse.
Berger, Miriam and Salim, Mustafa, “Iraq’s military is spreading fake news about the protests – and Iraqis are laughing back,” Washington Post, 11/18/19
Buratha News, “The Minister of Defense reveals new information about the “third party”: we are pursuing 200 of its members and this fact is linked to the popular crowd,” 11/17/19
Al Forat, “The commander of the rapid reaction acknowledges the firing of gas bombs in the head and confirms the commander bears responsibility,” 11/16/19
Ghafuri, Lawk, “Protesters being killed by ‘third party’, not Iraq’s security forces: defense minister,” Rudaw, 11/16/19
Al Mada, “The government is betting on time and a third-party scenario in dealing with demonstrations,” 11/17/19
- “Sudden withdrawal of security units from Al-Khalani, Al-Senak Bridge and demonstrators gaining a new position,” 11/16/19
Al Masalah, “Defense Minister defines the third party: “undisciplined” forces penetrated the security system .. We are pursuing 200 of the,” 11/16/19