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UN: Targeted Killings Continue Against Iraq Protesters

Posters of Anti-government protesters who have been killed in demonstrations are displayed in Tahrir Square during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 12, 2019.

Deliberate killings, abduction and arbitrary detention are among abuses that continue against Iraqi anti-government demonstrators by unknown groups, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

The report comes amid a string of targeted assassinations and arrests of civil activists and journalists that have fostered fear among protesters.

Meanwhile, violence resumed in central Baghdad as 31 protesters were wounded when security forces fired tear gas to disperse them from Wathba square, a central plaza in the capital, security and health officials said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The report from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq called on the government to identify unknown groups targeting protesters and hold them accountable, in a report released on Wednesday based on 183 interviews conducted between Nov. 5 and Dec. 5.

"UNAMI continues to receive credible allegations of deliberate killings, abduction and arbitrary detention carried out by unknown armed men described as 'militia,' 'unknown third parties,' 'armed entities,' 'outlaws' and 'spoilers,'" the report said.

"The government must identify those groups responsible without delay and hold perpetrators accountable," the report went on. "Bearing the primary responsibility for the protection of its people, the state must spare no effort to protect the peaceful protesters from violence by armed actors operating outside state control as well as those with formal and informal reporting lines within the state."

The U.N. also said "credible information" indicated that high profile activists and journalists were being targeted for arrest by both Iraqi security forces and "groups described as 'militia,'" At least five high-profile activists have recently gone missing, the report said.

"Outside Tahrir [Square], we are not safe," said Ahmed, a protester who did not provide his last name fearing reprisal. "We know these kidnappings and killings are being done by these militia groups to scare us and make us leave."

The report was published one day after the assassination of Ali Najm al-Lami, who was kidnapped from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement, and killed in the Al-Shaab area, northeast of Baghdad, where his body was found with a gunshot wound to the head. The perpetrators were not identified. At least three other civil activists have disappeared.

Zaid al-Khafaji, 22, a photojournalist known for documenting the protests, was taken from his home after returning from the square at approximately 4 a.m. in the Qahira neighborhood, northeast of Baghdad. A black car with at least four men was seen taking al-Khafaji.

The vast majority of anti-government protesters arrested by security forces since Oct. 1 have been released without charge, the report said. Oct. 1 was when when mass demonstrations engulfed Iraq as thousands of protesters took to the streets to decry rampant government corruption.