As Deaths Mount in Iraq Protests, a Rocket Attack Raises New Questions


BAGHDAD — At least two people were killed Friday as antigovernment protests entered their fifth week amid rising concern that security forces continue to use lethal force in defiance of senior military officials.

The deaths, which occurred in clashes between protesters and security forces in the southern city of Basra, raised the number of dead to nearly 300 since demonstrations calling for an end to corruption and a change in leadership began last month.

And as protests gripped the country’s south and the capital, Baghdad, a rocket attack in the north created a new level of uncertainty. Seventeen rockets struck inside and near the Gayara military base south of Mosul on Friday, said Maj. Gen. Tahsin al-Khafaji, the spokesman for the Joint Command in Baghdad.

Most of the troops at the base are Iraqi but some American personnel are also stationed there. No one was killed or wounded at the base, General al-Khafaji said, and an American counterstrike killed three people.

It was not clear who launched the rocket attack, although the Islamic State has been active in the area for the past year, largely targeting small villages that have failed to comply with its demands for shelter, food and support.

Northern Iraq has been largely untouched by the political turbulence in Baghdad and the south. Human rights groups have issued increasingly worried statements about the tactics being used against unarmed, largely peaceful protesters.

A banner unfurled near the main protest site in Baghdad cried out for international intervention. “To the whole world, to the United Nations, to the European Union, to the Security Council, to the Arab League: They stole my country and killed our young men and destroyed our Iraq.”

Since the demonstrations began, 294 Iraqis have been killed and 9,800 wounded, according to a survey of hospitals by the Iraqi government.

United Nations officials in Geneva said Friday that the Iraqi government was not doing enough to defuse the protests and had failed to rein in security forces and militias, some of which have fired live ammunition at protesters.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, told reporters that the Iraqi government had not started any meaningful dialogue with protesters. “To get out of that cycle they clearly need to do more than they are now,” he said.

United Nations officials are also alarmed by reports that protesters have been abducted by unknown people, Mr. Colville said, and that demonstrators, bloggers and social media commentators have been arrested.

Human rights groups have criticized the tear gas canisters and the tactics of the security forces. The canisters are larger than those used in many urban crowd-control operations, and they are sometimes shot directly at protesters, causing lethal head injuries.

“We lost so many brothers and friends, we have so many martyrs,” said Ali Hassan, 30, who has a master’s degree in business administration but has been unable to find a job.

He said the government was behaving “like a mafia.”

“They are killing so many unarmed people, so we are asking for help from the United Nations, from the European Union,” he said. “Please, please help bring peace between our security forces and all of our unarmed people.”

Nick Cummings Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva.