The 2019 October protests that affected central and southern Iraq were initially violently repressed by government and paramilitary forces, resulting in over 500 fatalities. Although the majority of deaths resulted from live fire, the second wave of protests in late October was characterised by the deadly use of CCWs, with 28 deaths attributed to shrapnel from stun grenades and impacts from tear gas canisters. Extensive video documentation revealed that tear gas canisters were direct-fired at protesters along a horizontal trajectory, a method of use that poses a high risk of severe to fatal injury.
The rounds responsible for these wounds were military-grade Serbian M99 grenades or Iranian M651 tear gas / M713 smoke grenades. Although government sources denied the use and import of these weapons, instead blaming non-government instigators, further research revealed the Serbian grenades were part of a $235 million arms deal struck between Serbia and Iraq in 2008, with the intended end user being the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
These “barrier-penetrating” rounds can have effects comparable to those of a 12-gauge shotgun slug and pose extreme danger in crowd-control settings. A typical US CS canister weighs 25-50 grams. These weigh 250-280 grams. The use of military-grade ammunition for crowd control is unusual, and typical tear gas canisters do not pose the same magnitude of hazard. However, with little to no regulation of chemical irritants, these weapons were manufactured, purchased, and used against civilians, with no limitations. Worryingly, direct impacts to the head from “civilian grade” tear gas canisters have been documented to cause injuries ranging from traumatic brain injury, to skull fracture, enucleation, and death.