16 Nov 2019 – by Lawk Ghafuri  – RUDAW – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq’s defense minister has accused an unspecified “third party” of killing protesters to ignite violence with the security forces in the streets and cause national “instability”, as protests in the country’s south and center continue. 

Najah al-Shimmari made the claim during an interview with France 24 in Paris on Saturday.

“The Iraqi national security forces are not who is killing the protesters,” Shimmari said. “There is a third party killing the protesters, to push protesters to clash with security forces to spread instability in Iraq.” He offered no elaboration on who said “third party” may be.

The number of casualties rose yesterday after a blast by an unconfirmed party hit the protester stronghold Tahrir Square in Baghdad. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), one protester was killed, while 19 others were wounded.

According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), more than 123 protesters were detained between November 12-15 in the provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Dhi Qar alone, with only 35 released to date. Shimmari claimed in Saturday’s interview that Iraqi security forces were only detaining “troublemakers” who infiltrate protests solely to attack security forces and public and private property.

Anti-government protests began in Baghdad on October 1, quickly spreading to Iraq’s central and southern provinces.  At least 320 protesters and security force personnel have died and 15,000 others have been wounded since protests began, according to the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee.
Security forces have faced particularly vehement condemnation for the direct fire of military-grade tear gas canisters, some of which have fatally pierced protester skulls.

According to a report published last month by Amnesty International, a significant portion of the tear gas grenades used on protesters are manufactured by the “Defense Industries Organization (DIO) of Iran.”

Shimmari claimed the canisters are not used or purchased by Iraqi security forces.

“The tear gas canisters and the kind of weapon that are used against the protesters on the streets do not belong to the Iraqi security forces, nor do we import these kind of weapons into Iraq,” he added.

The defense minister also dismissed speculation that the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic), whose ties to Iran have led to accusations they have enacted violence on protesters.

The PMF was created in 2014 following a fatwa, or religious call to action, from Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in response to the Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency. Though measures have been taken to fully integrate PMF units into Iraq’s military apparatus, many units continue to be under the command of Tehran.

Over the course of the protests, many have expressed anger at Iranian interference in Iraq’s politics.

Anti-Iran banners have been a regular fixture. Protesters in Tahrir Square in Baghdad have been seen burning the Iranian flag; in Babil, they painted the flag onto the ground before stomping on it. In Diwaniyah, protesters hit and tore images of Islamic Republic founder Ali Khomeini to shreds. In Karbala, protesters attacked the Iranian consulate.

The evolution of protester focus from the improved provision of services and anti-corruption measures to one challenging Iran’s presence in Iraq has led the PMF to revise its views on the protests, labelling them a foreign conspiracy aiming to destabilize the country.

Protest persisted in the southern city of Basra on Saturday, where the main road to one of the country’s biggest oilfields was blocked off.

Located 60 kilometers from Basra, Majnoon is one of the richest oil fields in the world, with an estimated 38 billion barrels of oil in place.
The blockade of oilfields, oil tanker routes and major ports by protesters has caused billions of dollars of economic loss in Iraq. A single week of protester obstruction of entry to the Umm Qasr port in Basra caused an estimated $6 billion in losses.