Despite crackdown, thousands of students join anti-government demonstrations

The teachers’ syndicate on October 28 announced a 4-day general strike in solidarity with protesters’ demands and threatened to take a stronger stance if the demands were not met.

Sunday 03/11/2019
Defying the crackdown. An Iraqi demonstrator takes photos during an anti-government protest at Tahrir Square, November 1.  (DPA)
Defying the crackdown. An Iraqi demonstrator takes photos during an anti-government protest at Tahrir Square, November 1. (DPA)

BAGHDAD - Iraqi students joined anti-government protests despite the Education and Higher Education ministries warning teachers and students against participating in demonstrations that have left nearly 300 people dead.

Thousands of university students ignored the warning and poured into Tahrir Square and its surrounding streets in Baghdad to express their rejection of the government. Students in many other Iraqi cities echoed the Baghdad demonstrators’ demands, chanting: “No school, no class until the regime collapses.”

The teachers’ syndicate on October 28 announced a 4-day general strike in solidarity with protesters’ demands and threatened to take a stronger stance if the demands were not met. More than 15 other Iraqi syndicates announced participation in the protests.

Activists circulated a video purportedly showing Iraqi security forces cracking down on schoolgirls at an anti-government demonstration and allegedly assaulting a female student. Several students were injured in Baghdad after security forces fired weapons, set off tear gas bombs and used batons to disperse protesters, Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) said.

IOHR said 73 demonstrators had been killed and more than 3,500 people injured from October 25-27. The death toll from October 1-27 was more than 210.

“We demand the government’s resignation. They (politicians) provided us poor health services, zero infrastructure, under-level education and low opportunities to get a job after graduation,” said Basra University student Bassam Raad, 24.

“I skipped the class to protest, seeking a better thing. It is my future,” he added. “This is our moment to join the anger protests to support our brothers in the square protests site, those who were searching for the fundamental rights since October 1.”

Batool Ali, 16, said: “By these protests, I learned how to demand my rights, I am sad to skip the class… but I wish to get better education and rights to save my dignity.

“I am on my first step in life and we have all to unite. If we divide, we fall. My parents encouraged me to participate in this march. We just have studied the democracy in textbooks. Now we practise it.”

Essa al-Zubaidi, a 21-year-old Baghdad university student, said: “We want to pressure the government by taking to the streets. If we do not protest, we will get nothing. I will stick in the demonstration site until our demands are met.”

“Jobs, health care, clear water, electricity and others; they were our old demands. The new one — the government falls or all of its members resign.” Zubaidi said. “At the time I opened my eyes in life, I have seen this corrupted government. The non-dignified life of our ancestors, I and the next generations do not want to live in.”

Suzan Samer, an elementary school teacher, said taking to the streets to express their freedoms was like a “national celebration.”

“It is the time to demand the rights we have been deprived of our entire life,” she said.

“I do not want our sons to live the life we lived, no more corruption, no more violation. Enough is enough! Enough is enough!”

Sarkawt Shamsulddin, a member of the Future bloc in parliament, said: “With regard to violence used by security forces, it is the problem we have in a democracy that is immature and flawed. We have powerful armed groups whose interests are threatened by these demonstrations and they want to justify violence and using force by provoking protesters,”

Mosul Eye, run by Iraqi historian Omar Mohammed, posted on Twitter: “We have reports that high school students in Mosul were arrested after they organised a protest in solidarity with Iraq protests.”

“I fully support informed student demonstrations for reforms. It is important for students to become educated not through texts but also to raise their voice and speak truth to power,” Shamsulddin said.

“It is hard to predict but if they don’t realise their demands or part of their demands within a month, I think it may lose its momentum.”

5