Iraqi demonstrators vow to continue protests ‘until government is changed’
BAGHDAD - Iraqi protesters vowed to continue anti-government demonstrations despite the heavy-handed response of the security services that caused the death of scores of demonstrators.
If authorities cannot address protesters’ demands for a better life and an end to corruption, protesters say they will not stop demonstrating across Iraq until the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi is changed.
Chanting in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, Ahmed Mansour, 29, said he travelled from Dhi Qar province to protest. “We are demanding the change of Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s government because it failed to meet our demands,” he said.
“Why have the security forces fired at us rubber and live bullets as well as tear gas? Are we enemies of the country or are we the people of this homeland? They cannot stop us from taking to the street to demand our neglected rights,” said Mansour.
“I told the riot police not to beat the women and beat me instead but they continued to beat the women as well as the elderly. Many people were killed and hundreds were wounded and transferred to Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Baghdad.”
He said: “Demonstrations will continue until we get Adel Abdul-Mahdi out office.”
At least 93 people were killed and some 4,000 people were injured, according to figures released October 5 by the Iraqi parliament’s human rights commission.
Iraqi President Barham Salih called for “restraint and respecting the law” and added “our sons in the security forces have the duty to protect citizens’ rights and to maintain public security” after security forces fired weapons and used tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters.
Starting in Baghdad, the protests spread to other Iraqi provinces and cities, including Basra, Babil, Karbala, Diyala, Maysan, Dhi Qar, Muthanna, Najaf and Wasit.
Activists said the demonstrations were spontaneous and were organised through social networking sites, without dictates from politicians or foreign parties.
As an attempt to curb the protesters, Iraqi authorities cut the internet in 75% of the country, leaving more than 30 million people offline.
“Internet interruption in Iraq is a big (rights) violation, intended to curb protesters and is against freedom of expression — as Iraq’s constitution affirmed the right to access information,” said Hayder Hamzoz, founder and CEO of the Iraqi Network for Social Media.
“Making the internet offline puts millions of Iraqis in isolation and darkness, preventing them from expressing their opinions on social-media platform,” Hamzoz said.
“The only communication means in Iraq were through phone calls and texts. The internet service was online in Kurdistan and the people in Kurdistan called their friends in other cities to get news on what is going on to post it on social media.”
Fatima Ali, a protester in Baghdad, said she was “shocked” by the anti-riot police’s use of batons against her after she “had been suffocating from tear gas.”
“The riot policeman took off my hijab and continued to beat me to stop me from protesting but I never gave up until we get our demands,” she said.
Diaa al-Hindi, a 29-year-old activist from Karbala, said: “Our demand is just one demand now: to topple the current regime.”
“I and a group of my friends went to Baghdad to participate in Tahrir Square but we… faced all kinds of weapons by the riot police,” said Hindi. “The blood filled Iraq’s streets and the government still does not care about us.”
Protesters said they were angry with the speech Abdul-Mahdi delivered October 4 because he blamed demonstrators, not the security apparatus.
“Abdul-Mahdi’s speech is just a lie. It is a clear threat for more killing if we continue to protest,” said Mohammed al-Alawan, 24, an activist from Basra.
International and local Iraqi organisations expressed concern about excessive force used on peaceful demonstrators in Iraq.
Ibrahim al-Sarraj, head of Iraqi Journalists’ Rights Defence Association, described the force from the riot police against journalists and bloggers as “illegal” and “inhuman.”
Hussein Adel and his wife, Sara, who had volunteered to give first aid to wounded protesters, were reportedly killed in their own home on October 3. No one claimed responsibility for their death.
A witness, who did not wish to be identified, said he saw six masked men wearing black leave two vehicles in front of the couple’s home. Two of the masked men entered the house and shots were heard. They exited the house and the six men left, the witness added. The couple was found dead.