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US sanctions Iran-linked Iraqis over protest deaths

December 6, 2019

Protesters in Baghdad have been targeted by unknown assailants, leaving 15 dead. Meanwhile, the US has imposed sanctions on three Iranian-linked Iraqi militia leaders for allegedly assisting efforts to thwart the unrest.

A demonstrator throws tear gas towards Iraqi security forces during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad
Image: Reuters/K. al-Mousily

More than a dozen people were killed on Friday in Baghdad's Khilani Square, where protesters had gathered for a demonstration.

Iraqi security and medical officials said unknown assailants deliberately targeted demonstrators, leaving 15 people dead and more than 60 wounded.

Armed men on pick-up trucks shot at a large building where protesters had been camped out for weeks, forcing them out.

The attack came just a day after four protesters died in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, after security forces employed rubber bullets, military-grade tear gas and live rounds, in an effort to disperse a demonstration.

Iraq's capital has been shaken by youth-dominated, leaderless, anti-government protests since early October.

Read more: Is the Middle East seeing a new Arab Spring?

Iraq: Consequences of corruption

US issues sanctions

Earlier on Friday, the United States imposed sanctions on three Iranian-linked Iraqi militia leaders for allegedly assisting efforts to thwart the anti-government demonstrations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed the Iraqi protesters: "The Iraqi people want their country back. They are calling for genuine reform and accountability and for trustworthy leaders who will put Iraq's national interests first," he said in a statement.

Read more: Iraq's post-Saddam political order has failed

The US imposed the punishment on three Iraqis — Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali and Hussein Falil Aziz al-Lami — due to links to Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashed al-Shaabi, a Shiite militia movement close to Iran.

The three leaders have had all their assets seized by the United States and have been banned from traveling to the US.

In addition, Washington also slapped sanctions on an Iraqi politician, Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi, as they accused him of bribery.

More than 400 people have been killed since anti-government protests began at the beginning of October. The unrest has continued despite the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, a close ally of Iran. Iraqi citizens are unhappy at the government's closeness to Iran, as well as corruption.

jsi, jcg/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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