Unidentified armed forces, in cooperation with Iraqi national and local security forces, carried out brutal killings in Baghdad’s main protest area on December 6, 2019, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The organization issued a report estimating around 29 to 80 protesters to have been killed, and 137 injured.
It noted that the electricity was cut during the attack, making it harder for protesters to identify the killers and flee to safety.
“Police and military forces withdrew as the unidentified militia, some in uniforms, began shooting.”
HRW quoted five witnesses to the killings as saying that on December 6 about 1,000 protesters were present in Baghdad’s al-Senak Garage, a five-story parking garage just off al-Khilani Square they had been occupying since November 16.
They said they saw seven pickup trucks speed into the Square, then they started driving through the square slowly as gunmen in plain black uniforms and civilian dress opened fire with AK-47s and PK machine guns above the protesters, before firing directly at them.
The witnesses said the protesters were gathering peacefully and did not threaten with any acts of violence. They said they saw about two dozen Federal Police and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), in two checkpoints in the square, leave by car as the gunmen arrived.
On the morning of December 07, the armed men left, they said, and within a few minutes security forces returned.
After shooting people in the square, the men in the pickup trucks drove to Senak garage, the witnesses said.
A protester said he was on the first floor of the garage with about 150 other protesters when he first heard shots ring out. Then he saw about 30 men in civilian dress carrying machetes and sticks storm the building.
A few minutes later he saw five pickup trucks pull up outside, and men in black uniforms enter carrying guns, and they then opened fire on protesters inside the building and stabbed others. He saw at least seven protesters wounded.
A protester on the second floor said he heard screams from the first floor, and saw the armed men appear and stab protesters who tried to stand in their way.
When the protester from the first floor exited, he hid behind a concrete block, he said; when he looked back, he saw an armed man throw a protester off the third floor and saw others set fire to tires to block emergency exits.
Other witnesses said they saw fire coming from the garage.
“The Iraqi government bears the leading responsibility to protect Iraqis’ right to life. It should urgently identify and make public the groups and security forces that engaged in or coordinated these killings and hold perpetrators to account. It should compensate victims of all unlawful killings,” concluded HRW.