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US, “Israel” involved in killing Iraqi protesters

The leader of Iraq’s Asaib Ahl al-Haq group, which is part of the country’s Popular Mobilization Forces or Hashd al-Sha’abi, says Washington and Tel Aviv are members of “a third party” that has been behind many deaths during the recent unrest.  

Qais al-Khazali told Dijlah TV, an Amman-based Iraqi satellite television channel, on Saturday that the committee set up to investigate the violence is merely an administrative body, and thus cannot identify the “third party” responsible for the killing of demonstrators.

He stressed that “Israel and US have a great role in the third party.”

Khazali further said the probe into the deaths in Iraq should not be restricted to the question of who killed the protesters, but also examine who “eased” the way for the killers and who gave them order.

At the start of October, street protests erupted in several Iraqi cities over unemployment and a lack of basic services.

The rallies resumed on October 25 after a pause of about two weeks, but took a violent turn, with some participants vandalizing public property and opening fire on demonstrators during the mayhem.

Over 300 people have been killed in the Iraq unrest since October 1, according to the Iraqi parliament’s human rights commission.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari told France 24’s Arabic-language channel that a “third party” is behind shooting at the Iraqi demonstrators.

“The Iraqi national security forces are not the ones who are killing the protesters,” Shammari said. “There is a third party killing the protesters to push protesters to clash with security forces to spread instability in Iraq.” 

Pence’s Iraq visit sparks criticism

On Saturday, US Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced visit to Iraq where his trip to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region drew angry reaction from Iraqi politicians

He met with Nechirvan Barzani, the president of the  Iraqi Kurdistan region, in Erbil and also received a classified briefing at the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s Western Anbar Province.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi criticized Pence for holding talks with Kurdish officials in Erbil instead of federal government officials in Baghdad. 

“Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, not Erbil,” read a post on Abadi’s Facebook page on Saturday.

Last December, US President Donald Trump paid a similar unannounced visit to al-Asad air base but did not travel to Baghdad, triggering fierce criticisms from Iraqi officials.

Trump acknowledged security concerns about visiting Iraq, saying it was “pretty sad” that he needed such secrecy to see American troops.

Five killed in fresh clashes

On Sunday, a total of five Iraqi people lost their lives in renewed clashes with security forces, reports said.

Police and hospital sources said three people were killed and more than 50 others wounded after security forces used live ammunition and tear gas canisters to disperse protesters in Baghdad’s three key bridges.

Baghdad is bisected by the Tigris river which is crossed by many bridges. In recent weeks, rioters have repeatedly occupied bridges to cripple transportation.  

Two more people were killed and over 70 others injured near the port city of Um Qasr, a flashpoint commodities port near Basra. 

Earlier this month, security forces reopened the entrance to the key port which had been blocked by protesters, preventing employees and tankers from entering and bringing operations down by 50%.

Umm Qasr is Iraq’s main Persian Gulf port. It receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.

According to the police, hundreds of protesters burned tires and blocked some roads in the nearby city of Basra on Saturday, preventing government employees from reaching offices.

The city of Nasiriyah also witnessed riots, with some government offices set on fire.

Overnight, medical authorities evacuated children from a Nasiriyah hospital after tear gas spread inside the courtyards of the medical center.

At least 24 people were further wounded in the holy city of Karbala overnight after Iraqi security forces opened fire on rioters trying to storm the local government headquarters.