Tension between Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari and several Iranian-backed armed factions peaked on Thursday after documents emerged showing the Iraqi Defence Ministry had tear gas canisters in its warehouses imported from Serbia years ago.
Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have been witnessing anti-government demonstrations since Oct. 1.
More than 300 demonstrators have died and about 16,000 have been injured so far, mostly in Baghdad, by tear gas and live bullets used by Iraqi forces to quell the protests.
In an earlier television interview, Al-Shammari said Iraqi security forces had not shot at demonstrators and that orders since October had been clear that no live bullets should be used to deal with the protesters.
Al-Shammari also said tear gas that killed dozens of demonstrators after they were hit directly in the head and chest by canisters was not imported by the Iraqi government. He accused a “third party” of killing the demonstrators, reports Arab News.
“Third parties fired (at the demonstrators) in an attempt to make the conflict seem between security forces and demonstrators,” Al-Shammari said. “A third party has been killing protesters and security forces.”
Since the start of the protests, the majority of Iraqis have used specific words to describe the demonstrators, security forces, and armed factions supporting the government.
The “third party” is the description used to describe Iranian-backed factions to differentiate between them and security forces, often referred to as the “second party,” while describing the demonstrators as the “first party”.
“Third party” became a term of ridicule after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi unintentionally used it several times in a statements to shirk responsibility for killings, kidnappings and arrests of protesters, activists, journalists and even officials.