Iraq police officer jailed for life over murder of protesters

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An Iraqi criminal court on Sunday sentenced to life in prison a police officer over the 2019 murder of anti-government protesters in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

Nasiriyah was a center of anti-corruption protests that gripped Iraq in late 2019 and were crushed by authorities in a crackdown that killed more than 600 people nationwide.

The ruling stated that commander Omar Nazar, a member of an elite police squad, was sentenced to life in prison for the “murder of Mustafa Ahmad and his group” on Nov. 28, 2019.

He was also convicted of causing “injuries to Mohammed Yasser Hussein and his group” of protesters holding a sit-in at a Nasiriyah bridge the same day.

Nazar, who can appeal the verdict, went on trial in February 2022 for the murder of 21 people that day, when Iraqi security forces including Nazar’s rapid deployment squad violently broke up the sit-in, said Ali Mehdi Ajeel, an adviser to the governor of Dhi Qar province.

Following the crackdown, around 95 families filed complaints against Nazar, and about 100 witnesses gave testimony in the case, Ajeel said.

The 2019 protests were led mostly by disaffected youths who demonstrated against rampant corruption, unemployment and a lack of services in the oil-rich country where decades of war and conflict devastated infrastructure.

Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar, is a poor and marginalized city that saw thousands of protesters take to the streets to vent their anger and demand jobs.

The crackdown on protesters eventually forced prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to resign.

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