Iraq’s prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhmi has ordered an investigation into the killing of two anti-government protesters, saying security forces were not authorized to fire “a single bullet” towards the demonstrators.
The violence came after months of quiet following the coronavirus pandemic, and were an embarrassment to Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who has vowed to meet protester demands by holding early elections and investigating the death of hundreds of protesters at the hands of security forces in recent months.
Tensions between the security forces and the demonstrators soared late on Sunday when dozens of protesters cut the road connecting two main intersections – Tayaran Square and Tahrir Square – in the capital Baghdad. Some burnt tyres while others chanted slogans about power cuts in the scorching summer months.
Iraq is facing electricity shortages amid searing summer temperatures that can top 50° Celsius.
Medics at two hospitals in Baghdad told reporters that two men were hit in their head and neck with tear gas canisters and died of their injuries overnight on Sunday.
More than 26 protesters were wounded and several members of the security forces suffered minor injuries, police said.
“Every bullet directed at our youth and our people while demanding their rights is a bullet directed at our dignity and principles,” Mr Al Kadhimi said in a televised speech on Monday. He said he had ordered an inquiry and asked the facts to be placed before him within 72 hours.
A senior Electricity Ministry official said the power supply fell short by 10,000 megawatts this summer, down 1,000 megawatts compared with last year, due to lack of maintenance in several power plants because of lack of funds in state coffers. This has also slowed investment projects to add more power to Iraq’s grid.
Mr Al Kadhimi said there was no “magic solution” for Iraq’s electricity problem, which is a result of decades of corruption and mismanagement and “cannot be resolved overnight.” He said his government was working on a solution, and reiterated his intention to pave the way for early elections in line with protesters’ demands.
In October, mass anti-government protests erupted in Baghdad and across Iraq’s predominantly Shiite south as tens of thousands of angry Iraqi youth took to the streets to decry rampant government corruption, unemployment and poor services, including electricity. Pressure from protests lead to the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.