Iraqi Security Forces Used Military-Style Grenades Intending to Kill and Maim Protesters: Report

During the height of protests in Baghdad late last year, hundreds of civilians died. More than 15,000 were injured. Protesters crammed national squares, overtaking bridges and public spaces to voice concern about corruption, continued American military presence and drone strikes around the country, inefficient public services, and a worsening economy for the country's youth.

The violence against the protesters seemed an outsized response. Now there's evidence to suggest protesters were killed by a calculated and strategic use of military-style weaponry.

Stitching together a 3D digital reconstruction of protests and marches using videos captured in Tahrir Square and Jumhuriya Bridge in Baghdad, Amnesty International and SITU Research found that Iraqi security forces used military-grade tear gas grenades to deliberately maim and kill protesters.

"The security forces knew how deadly these abhorrent weapons were, but continued to fire at will, leading to a string of at least two dozen gruesome fatalities," Brian Castner, senior crisis adviser on arms and military operations at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Castner, a former U.S. Air Force explosive ordnance disposal officer who served in Iraq, told Newsweek tear gas grenades should never be directed at people, but rather fired low, below the waist, for deployment along the ground.

"The injuries are truly horrific, the still-smoking grenade lodged in the skulls of the protesters," he said. "At Amnesty we decided not to release photos or videos of the injuries, but we did share CT scans from the hospital, which show caved in faces and heads split open."

The analysis and investigation—which is available as an interactive website—comes at a time when the nation remains wracked by demonstrations marked with rampant civil disobedience. In January, that anger was stoked by the American drone strike which killed an Iranian general, further underscoring an unwanted yet strong U.S. presence across the country.

Iraq protests gas
File photo. An Iraqi protester grabs a tear gas canister fired by riot police amid clashes following anti-government demonstrations in al-Khilani Square off central Baghdad's Sinak bridge on January 28, 2020. Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images

Multiple videos captured by cellphones show protesters pushed back by Iraqi forces using "smokers" to thwart advancing crowds. The grenades, M99s and M651 tear gas grenades and M713 smoke grenades, manufactured by Iran, weighed more than ten times standard gas canisters and resulted in heavily bodily trauma and, in some instances, death.

"The videos analyzed for this report clearly show a pattern of abuse and lethal use of force against Iraqi civilians," Brad Samuels, founding partner of SITU Research, wrote in a release with the report. "It is critical to analyze these weapons in relation to the urban spaces in which they are deployed—this visual investigation tracks the performance of the weapon in relation to the streets, plazas and spaces of assembly where so many have been killed."

The Iraqi capital and cities across Iraq, stretching to the southern cities of Najaf and Basra, became a flashpoint of uprising and violence, stoked by a report from The Intercept on Iranian influence in Baghdad's parliamentary halls and beyond.