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Iran-backed militias deployed snipers across Baghdad during Iraq's deadly anti-government protests, officials say
(Reuters) - Iran-backed militias deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops during Iraq's deadliest anti-government protests in years, two Iraqi security officials told Reuters.
The deployment of militia fighters, which has not been previously reported, underscores the chaotic nature of Iraqi politics amid mass protests that led to more than 100 deaths and 6,000 injuries during the week starting Oct. 1. Such militias have become a fixture here with Iran's rising influence. They sometimes operate in conjunction with Iraqi security forces but they retain their own command structures.
The Iraqi security sources told Reuters that the leaders of Iran-aligned militias decided on their own to help put down the mass protests against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, whose one-year-old administration is backed by powerful Iran-backed armed groups and political factions.
"We have confirmed evidence that the snipers were elements of militias reporting directly to their commander instead of the chief commander of the armed forces," said one of the Iraqi security sources. "They belong to a group that is very close to the Iranians."
A second Iraqi security source, who attended daily government security briefings, said militia men clad in black shot protesters on the third day of unrest, when the death toll soared to more than 50 from about half a dozen.
The fighters were directed by Abu Zainab al-Lami, head of security for the Hashid, a grouping of mostly Shi'ite Muslim paramilitaries backed by Iran, the second source said. The Hashid leader was tasked with quashing the protests by a group of other senior militia commanders, the source said.
The sources did not say how many snipers were deployed by militia groups.
A spokesman for the Hashid, Ahmed al-Asadi, denied the groups took part in the crackdown. "No members were present in the protest areas. None of the elements of the Hashid took part in confronting protesters," Asadi said in a statement to Reuters.
Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan said state security forces did not fire directly at protesters and blamed unnamed "vicious" shooters for the mass deaths and injuries. The government has opened an investigation to determine who shot the protesters and who ordered it, Maan said in a news conference on Oct. 6.
The assertion that security forces did not participate in the violence seemed to contradict a statement on Oct. 7 from the Iraqi security forces which said excessive force had been used and promised to hold individuals accountable for violence against civilians.
An official with the prime minister's office said in a statement to Reuters Wednesday that it would be "premature to lay the blame on any parties, whether from Hashid or other security forces, before we end the investigation. Let's wait and see who gave the order 'shoot to kill.'"
Mohammed Ridha, the head of parliament's security and defense committee, said in statement on Thursday that an initial investigation showed there were "deliberate killings of protesters by some elements", without elaborating.
Iran's role in responding to the demonstrations was another reminder of Tehran's reach in Iraq, where a sizable number of former militia commanders are now members of parliament and support the Iranian agenda. Stability of the Iraqi government is in the best interests of Iran, which has been steadily amassing influence in Iraq since 2003, when the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Islamic Republic's arch-enemy Saddam Hussein. Iran is Iraq's biggest trading partner.
Iran's delegation to the United Nations did not immediately respond Wednesday afternoon to questions from Reuters about its support of militias and their involvement in the violence against protesters. Leaders of militias in Iraq have denied getting training and weapons from Iran.
Snipers on rooftops
As protests entered their third day, on Oct. 3, snipers appeared on Baghdad rooftops. A Reuters cameraman who was covering the unrest near Baghdad's Tahrir Square that afternoon said he saw a sniper, wearing a balaclava and dressed in black as he stood on top of an under-construction building that overlooked the demonstrations.
Protesters fled as the sniper opened fire. One protester who was shot in the head was carried away in a large crowd. Another who was shot in the head appeared to have died and was rushed off in a truck. When his phone rang, a friend recognized that the man's brother was calling.
"Don't tell him he died," the friend said.
The protests started Oct. 1 amid public rage over chronic shortages of jobs, electricity and clean water. Iraqis blame politicians and officials for systemic corruption that has prevented Iraq from recovering after years of sectarian violence and a devastating war to defeat Islamic State.
Any vacuum of power could prove challenging for the region, given that Baghdad is an ally of both the United States and Iran, who are locked in their own political standoff. Thousands of U.S. troops are stationed in the country in positions not far from those of Iran-backed Shi'ite militias.
The second security source told Reuters that the snipers were using radio communications equipment that was provided by Iran and is difficult to intercept, giving the groups an essentially private network.
A group of senior commanders from Iran's Revolutionary Guards traveled to Iraq on the second day of the protests and met with Iraqi intelligence and security officials, according to a diplomat in the region familiar with Iran's decision-making process. After the meeting, senior Revolutionary Guard officers with experience in curbing civil unrest continued to advise the Iraqi government, the diplomat said, although no Iranian soldiers were deployed.
A senior commander of one of the Iran-backed militias - who said his group was not involved in efforts to stop the protests or the resulting violence - said Tehran consulted closely with forces trying to quell the demonstrations.
"After two days, they jumped in and supplied the government and militias with intelligence," the militia leader told Reuters. "Iranian advisors insisted on having a role and warned us that the ongoing protests, if not reversed, will undermine the government of Abdul Mahdi."
Americans' eroding trust in all forms of government has made it impossible to solve the most serious problems facing the United States today, former Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote in a recent article for The Atlantic.
The retired Marine Corps general laid out why the world's oldest democracy no longer seems to be able to reach a consensus on any issue, arguing that the underlying problem is politicians no longer debate: They just launch personal attacks against each other.
"We scorch our opponents with language that precludes compromise," Mattis wrote. "We brush aside the possibility that a person with whom we disagree might be right. We talk about what divides us and seldom acknowledge what unites us. Meanwhile, the docket of urgent national issues continues to grow—unaddressed and, under present circumstances, impossible to address."
My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead
"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.
They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.
As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.
But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.
She's photographed every major war of the last 20 years. Marine Corps boot camp was something else entirely
Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario's seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.
Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.
The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.
Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
An Army staff sergeant who "represents the very best of the 101st Airborne Division" has finally received a Silver Star for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge after a 75-year delay.
On Sunday, Staff Sgt. Edmund "Eddie" Sternot was posthumously awarded with a Silver Star for his heroics while leading a machine gun team in the Ardennes Forest. The award, along with Sternot's Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was presented to his only living relative, Sternot's first cousin, 80-year-old Delores Sternot.