Demonstrators met with lethal force as they resume protests in Iraq

Observers said the chronic problems of the country go beyond the 1-year rule of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
Saturday 26/10/2019
Protesters gather for a demonstration in Baghdad, October 26. (AP)
Mass movement. Protesters gather for a demonstration in Baghdad, October 26. (AP)

BAGHDAD - Iraqi protesters returned to the streets calling on the government to resign for failing to end corruption and improve living conditions but the demonstrators were met with deadly force that led to scores of fatalities.

Demonstrations resumed October 25 in Baghdad and several Iraqi provinces. Protests continued the following day despite a government-imposed curfew in seven southern provinces.

At least 42 protesters were killed, most of them allegedly by security forces but about a dozen activists died in a fire they started in a militia office in Diwaniyah, officials said.

Activists recorded on video what they said was brutality by security forces. Rights groups condemned the apparent heavy-handedness of the Iraqi authorities.

In Baghdad, protesters chanted anti-corruption and anti-Iran slogans.

“I am protesting for a country, for a homeland, for my rights and for my free will,” said Baghdad resident Mohammed Faris Abbas, 25. “My friends and I faced multiple violations while we were chanting slogans demanding our basic rights. We are being countered with tear gas, live bullets, rubber batons.”

Abbas said the aim of the renewed demonstrations is to topple the government because it had failed to deliver on reform promises.

“The government did nothing. They are a bunch of liars and thieves. They do not deserve the trust that we gave them or the positions they hold on to,” said Abbas. “I will never give up until we get our rights. We want to get rid of the Islamic parties that destroyed our country.”

In Basra, people on the streets were fuming.

“Our demands are: Change the election rules, do not allow any existing politician to nominate his name in future elections and open an investigation to learning who ordered the killing of protesters from 2015 to 2019 in Basra,” said Montadher al-Karkoshy, an activist in Basra.

Karkoshy said protesters were not convinced by reform pledges that Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi made on October 10, October 24 and October 25. The prime minister ordered a small cabinet reshuffle and the release of funds and economic packages aimed at aiding the poor and youth.

“Abdul-Mahdi’s reforms are far from reality and they do not meet our demands. We want a homeland, a radical change and politicians want chairs to rule,” said Karkoshy. “If the government does not respond to our demands, we will stay talking to the streets to put pressure on them.”

Observers said the chronic problems of the country go beyond the 1-year rule of the prime minister.

“The lack of seriousness in dealing with the reforms by [successive] governments led the people to take the streets. Iraqis had experienced this since 2003: Governments offer talk, not action,” Iraqi political analyst Shaho al-Qaradagh said.

“The current governmental promises are just an anaesthetic to calm the anger of protesters. The government lost the people’s trust after Abdul-Mahdi failed to achieve the reforms and promises he offered.”

“In addition to corruption, the government is condemned for killing unarmed protesters.

The government released a report on the death of protesters during demonstrations that began October 1, saying 157 people — 149 protesters and eight members of the security forces — had been killed.

The report condemned “excessive use of force” by security personnel but it also referenced “unknown shooters” who were neither identified nor arrested, which drew wide public criticism.

“The government wants to hide and protect the killers. The report did not mention who the snipers were and where they came from. I think the snipers are more powerful than the government itself,” said Qaradagh.

A Reuters report, citing Iraqi officials, implicated Iran-backed militias in the sniper attacks on protesters.

In the latest protests, activists set fire to militia headquarters and offices of Iran-backed parties in Babil, Qadisiyyah, Maysan, Dhi Qar and Wasit.

The spokesman of the Interior Ministry did not answer requests for comment.