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The Iraqi father mourns his son killed in protests: NPR



Khazaal Salih mourns his son Abbas Salih, a paramedic shot dead in Baghdad for treating a wounded demonstrator. "By God, my son did not do anything wrong," says Salih.

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Khazaal Salih mourns the death of his son Abbas Salih, a paramedic shot dead in Baghdad's treatment of a wounded demonstrator. "By God, my son did not do anything wrong," says Salih.

Jane Arraf / NPR

Khazaal Salih sits in a tent next to a photo of his son, just out of the frame shop. In the gold-framed photograph, Abbas wears a blue surgical disposable mask to protect him from tear gas. He smiles and raises his fingers in a victory sign. At the top of the photo is the date (6 November 2019) when the young man was killed by Iraqi security forces during an anti-government protest.

Abbas, 25, had fought ISIS for nearly three years with an Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group. His father, a retired sergeant of the Iraqi army, said he never thought his son would die this way – one of more than 315 demonstrators killed in anti-government demonstrations since October.

"He was unemployed and there was no work for him. I said," Where are you going? "He said," I will go with the demonstrators, with the poor, with those who die of hunger. "" [19659010] Mourners sit with a framed photo of Abbas Salih, who was shot on 6 November.

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Mourners sit with a framed photograph of Abbas Salih, shot dead on 6 November.

Jane Arraf / NPR

Abbas went out for almost two weeks every day. His family, including the sisters who raised him after her mother's death, barely saw him. And then, two weeks ago, his father received a phone call telling him that a young man named Abbas, who was a medical doctor, had been killed.

Abbas was not a doctor, but he had first aid training and wore a white lab coat. When he was shot near a bridge in the center of Baghdad, he helped treat an injured demonstrator.

"By God, my son did not do anything wrong," says his father. "He did not steal anything, he helped save people, and you killed him … If you want to scare the demonstrators, take them to jail or shoot them with their legs or elsewhere, do not kill them." [19659008] The 70-year-old Salih originally told Abbas not to join the protests – it was dangerous. But he eventually gave his blessing – even as Abbas got home with splinter wounds – because the revered Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other Shiite religious scholars supported the peaceful protests supported barricade near Baghdad's Khilani Square.

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A protester wearing tear gas goggles sits behind a barricade near Khilani Square in Baghdad.

Jane Arraf / NPR

Salih's support for the religious scholars has not diminished. But he curses the Prime Minister of his country and the security forces he is to command.

"Every soldier takes orders from the commander," he says. "Soldiers who had no order to fire would not shoot like that."

And he cursed the Iraqi parliament and the political parties that he says promise everything in elections and deliver nothing.

A funerary banner honoring Abbas as a martyr hangs in an alley leading to the modest Salih house in the mostly bourgeois Shaab neighborhood near Sadr City in Baghdad.

There is little work – especially for young people who do not have the money to bribe their way into a job. Abbas quit school after grade 7 to support his family. When ISIS invaded in 2014, he became a platoon commander and paramedic at Kataib Hezbollah, one of the main Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

At the hospital where Salih's body was abducted, his father kissed his son's head and feet. The family buried him in the holy city of Najaf.

A hospital nurse who saw Salih's corpse the night he was killed told NPR that he had been shot in the chest with a rifle.

One of Salih's sisters shows us a photo on her phone, taken at the hospital. It shows her dead brother with wounds on the chest and neck. In a video shot by demonstrators, Salih lies lifeless on the street after being shot. He wears a white lab coat over a blood-covered blue T-shirt. Iraqi Defense Minister denies that Iraqi security forces intentionally kill demonstrators.

The country's military spokesman, General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, has denied that Iraqi forces use live ammunition.

On the street of his family's house in Baghdad is a funeral banner by Abbas Salih. Along with more than 300 others recently killed in protests, he is praised as a martyr.

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A funeral banner announcing the death of Abbas Salih can be seen on the street of his family's home in Baghdad. Along with more than 300 others recently killed in protests, he is praised as a martyr.

Jane Arraf / NPR

Near NPR's Tahrir Square in Baghdad, NPR finds the paramedic who was with Salih when he was shot dead. He sinks against a concrete wall and is temporarily stunned by a sonic cannon that disperses the demonstrators. The paramedic, who says he left the Iraqi army to join the protesters, asked not to use his name for fear of arrest.

After recovering from the effects of the snare gun, he shares his memory of what happened November 6.

"We treated a wounded demonstrator," he says. "I asked a security major to stop the shoot so we could treat him, and he said, 'OK, done."

But another officer opened the fire and shot Salih in the neck and in the chest.

He wished he had died instead.

"To be killed is a victory," he says.

A doctor who also refused to be identified for fear of arrest says security forces are purposely targeting medical volunteers to help the wounded.

"I was injured on the first day of the protest because I had a lab coat," he says. "I took it off and threw it from the top of the bridge."

In the oil-rich south of Iraq, demonstrators have been demonstrating for almost two years against poverty, lack of jobs, rampant corruption and Iranian influence. In October, these protests spread to Baghdad. According to a report from the Iraqi government last month, in just two weeks demonstrations, 149 people, most of them demonstrators, were killed and thousands wounded.

The government will investigate and punish those responsible. Since then nobody has been publicly tried.

Protesters call for a completely new political system. Many say they want to elect a president directly. At least they want the current government to fall. Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi promised to resign in the past month but now seems to be planning to stay. Many of the killed demonstrators were hit in the head by tear gas canisters fired directly at them. The demonstrators wear protective gloves to pick up the canisters and throw them back to the security forces.

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Iraqi protesters hold tear gas canisters fired by security forces. Many of the killed demonstrators were hit in the head by tear gas canisters fired directly at them. The demonstrators wear protective gloves to pick up the canisters and throw them back to the security forces.

Jane Arraf / NPR

In Tahrir Square, where the recent anti-government demonstrations began, protesters turned the square into a small town with library, wall art and free food. But on the roads that lead to bridges that wanted to retake the demonstrators from the security forces, it looks like a war zone.

Close to Khilani Square, a few blocks from Tahrir Square, the sound of gunfire sounds. Crowds of young demonstrators are pushing forward. The demonstrators are running, some of them barefoot, to hide behind buildings. Two well-dressed women, rushing out of their homes with white poodles, join the fleeing crowd. When the teargas dissipates, the demonstrators fire up again.

The demonstrations are mostly peaceful, but with the rising number of dead and injured demonstrators, this has gradually changed. Two teenagers are standing on an empty street near Khilani Square preparing gasoline-filled glass bottles to light and toss.

"It's for self-defense," says a boy. He wants to stab the security forces in the eye.

Ambulances rush by, carrying wounded demonstrators.

"They use real bullets and kill us," says an unemployed computer science graduate from southern US Iraq, volunteering at a medical station. "They put masks on their faces so we do not know who they are, but now we know what they want, they want to kill us to stay in government so they can continue to steal."

To try to suppress the protests The government has cut off the internet for days. Away from the front of the protests, young men walk past telephones with creepy videos about people killed by bullets or tear gas canisters. All dead are considered martyrs.

Most protesters, young and poor in an oil-rich country, feel they have gained nothing in 16 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Now they feel they have nothing to lose.

Awadh al-Taee and Ahmed Qusay reported from Baghdad.


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