BAGHDAD: Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi force said yesterday it was ready to implement government orders to prevent “a coup d’etat or a rebellion” after protests that have left more than 100 dead.
Faleh al-Fayyadh, who heads the force mostly integrated into the state, told reporters in Baghdad he wanted “the fall of corruption, not the fall of the regime.”
The rallies began on Tuesday with calls to reduce youth unemployment and corruption but have spiralled to demand a total overhaul of the Iraqi political system.
The Iraqi government has announced a series of reforms to create jobs, boost social welfare and oust corrupt officials but have also accused “saboteurs” of infiltrating the protests.
“We know who stands behind these protests. The plan to bring down the regime has failed,” Fayyadh said.
His words echoed a statement earlier Monday by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who accused “enemies” of trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad.
State news agency IRNA said he was reacting to recent violence in Iraq.
The military admitted on Monday admitted that “excessive force” was used in a district of the capital overnight where a mass protest led to clashes that medics and security forces said left 15 people dead.
“Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts,” the military said in a statement.
It was the first time since protests broke out on Tuesday that security forces acknowledged using disproportionate measures, while protesters had accused them of firing live rounds directly at them.
Hundreds had gathered overnight in Sadr City, a densely populated district in eastern Baghdad where state security forces are rarely seen.
On videos distributed on social media of the late-night rally, protesters ducked in streets littered with burning tyres as heavy gunfire was heard.
Security sources and medics said the clashes left 13 people dead overnight. In a statement distributed to journalists on Monday morning, the Iraqi military said Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi had ordered “all army units to withdraw from Sadr City to be replaced with federal police units.”
He called on all forces to abide by the “rules of engagement” in dealing with rallies, it added.
In his only address to the protesters last week, Abdel Mahdi had insisted security forces were acting “within international standards” in dealing with demonstrations. – AFP