US 'outraged' at fresh killings of Iraqi activists
August 21, 2020
The US has condemned the targeted assassinations of Iraqi anti-government activists and protesters, as the Iraqi prime minister visits President Donald Trump. Rights groups say hundreds of people have been killed.
The United States publicly expressed outrage Thursday at the assassinations of civil society activists in Iraq. The statement came as human rights monitors sounded the alarm over the killings ahead of an official visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to US President Donald Trump.
"We are outraged by the targeted assassinations of civil society activists and attacks on protesters in Basrah and Baghdad," the statement by US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus read. "We strongly support the right of Iraqis to assemble peacefully and express themselves."
"We urge the government of Iraq to take immediate steps to hold accountable the militias, thugs and criminal gangs attacking Iraqis exercising their right to peaceful protest," the statement continues.
The US estimates that over 600 activists and protesters died in targeted killings when protests began in October.
'Cleansing of activists'
Tens of thousands of Iraqis first took to the streets in October to decry government corruption, poor services and unemployment in Baghdad and in the country's south. Hundreds died after Iraqi forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds.
Protests have picked up once again through July and August, with rights groups saying the number of organized assassinations is once more spiking.
"It seems that there is a well-programmed cleansing of activists who were influential in the last protest movement," Ali al-Bayati, spokesman for the semi-official Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights, told the Associated Press.
Al-Bayati said the government was complicit in the killings because of its "silence."
Trump repeats vow to withdraw US troops
President Trump repeated his plan to withdraw all US troops from Iraq as quickly as possible during his Oval Office meeting with Prime Minister al-Kadhimi.
"We look forward to the day when we don't have to be there," Trump said.
He remained vague when asked about a timeframe for the withdrawal. More than 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq.