LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday welcomed the arrest in Iraq of four alleged members of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The four men are under investigation for the killing of at least four civilians during anti-government demonstrations in the city of Basra in January 2020. One of the men holds a senior Iraqi police position.
“These arrests in Basra may represent a real change in the government’s willingness to hold its own forces accountable for perpetrating serious crimes, and will help deter such abuses in the future,” said Belkis Wille, a senior crisis and conflict researcher at HRW.
“The government should also ensure that the trials of the men are fair and devoid of any political influence.”
Anti-government protests in Iraq were sparked in October 2019 and quickly turned violent, with excessive force from the police and other Iraqi forces leading to 487 civilian deaths.
Various armed groups were found to be carrying out forced disappearances, illegal detentions and excessive force against protestors.
The Basra PMF unit is alleged to have ties with the Iran-backed PMF Hezbollah Brigades. Investigations continue regarding possible ties with other PMF units.
The four civilians in question are Jinan Madi, a paramedic who was treating injured protestors when she was killed; journalist Ahmed Abdessamad and camera operator Safaa Ghali, who were reporting from the demonstrations; and protestor Mojtaba Ahmed Al-Skini, 14.
HRW said a source close to the Iraqi government had said the authorities had identified 16 men implicated in the killings, but most had already fled the country.
Despite recent arrests and the government’s commitment to holding people accountable for the killing of protestors, PMF attacks on civilians have continued, and justice has yet to be given to the families of many of those killed during the demonstrations in 2019.
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