As the death toll continues to climb in Iraq, social media users are using #IraqiSodaChallenge to draw attention to the excessive force used against the protesters.
Violence has been escalating in Iraq, 45 protesters were killed on Thursday as security forces continued to clash with protesters. It comes after the Iranian consulate in Najaf, a city which serves as the seat of Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite clergy, was stormed and torched by protesters earlier this week.
Snapchat videos from the southern city of Nassiriya on Thursday show protesters on the streets defying a curfew enforced after at least 29 people died.
NetBlocks reported a sharp dip in Internet connectivity in Nasiriyah since 5:30 a.m. local time Thursday, corresponding with reports of army deployment and live fire against protesters.
Many Twitter users shared their fears the Internet would be cut, sighting the widespread circulation of videos showing security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas canisters towards protesters.
Using the hashtag #IraqiSodaChallenge, social media users in Iraq and around the world are challenging others to share pictures of themselves holding a can of soda to their head to imitate the injuries sustained by protesters through tear gas canisters.
Baghdad based video journalist Haider Husseini attended Thursday’s stand off between protesters and security forces near Ahrar Bridge. He spoke to Euronews of the, “live ammunition, tear gas, and chaos”.
“The situation is not going very well. People are still getting injured and are killed everyday”.
Husseini posted a picture of himself and an empty gas canister he found in Baghdad, “I did the #IraqiSodaChallenge because I wanted the world to see how we are being treated, how they are shooting the tear gas grenades directly at people’s heads and vital organs”.
Amnesty International have been closely monitoring the protests. Sam Dubberley of Amnesty International's Crisis Response Programme, told Euronews, they were first alerted to injuries of this kind though a mobile video.
“It was like nothing I’d never seen before, a protester had clearly been hit in the head, and smoke was coming out of the wound’’.
Towards the end of October, Amnesty recorded a high number of deaths near Tahrir Square, specifically fatal head injuries caused as a direct result of canisters.
“Whilst we can’t say these people had been ‘intentionally’ targeted, the security forces were using these canisters and firing them towards groups of people, and firing them in such a way that we saw the deaths that resulted”.
Amnesty spoke with pathologists, doctors, and medical workers, “They confirmed these injuries weren’t the result of ricochets, these canisters had entered the skull after direct firing’’.
One motivation behind the 'IraqiSodaChallenge', is its use of a soda can, a relatable, weighty object to demonstrate the size of the canisters used by security forces.
“The difference between these canisters, and normal tear canisters used for crowd control, is the weight and size.”
“The average tear gas canister used for normal crowd dispersion, weighs in the region of 25-50g. These canisters are military grade smoke canisters, which weigh up to 200g, up to ten times heavier than standard canisters”.
Combined with the trajectory used to fire them, Dubberley says, "if the canisters were to hit someone in the head, they would kill them. If these canisters were to hit other parts of the body they would cause serious injury".
On Tuesday, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq Jeanine Hennis visited injured protesters at a Neurological hospital in Baghdad
A statement from the Secretary General followed, expressing "deep concern over reports of the continued use of live ammunition against demonstrators in Iraq”, and calling for all acts of violence to be swiftly investigated”.
With medical and police sources suggesting 408 is the total death toll since protests began, Dubberley notes war-weary Iraqis are becoming fearful, "Finding a fully transparent account of the deaths in Iraq is becoming increasingly hard".
Husseini told Euronews, “We are fighting for our freedom, for stability, for a better future. We’re not trying to do harm to our country, we’re trying to have a better future’’.