Unrest erupts anew in Iraq’s anniversary of protests

Protests, however, resumed soon after authorities reopened the square, indicating that a popular movement against corruption and unemployment is still alive and evolving.
Monday 02/11/2020
Anti-government protesters throw stones towards security forces in Basra, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020.
Anti-government protesters throw stones towards security forces in Basra, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 1. (AP)

BAGHDAD –Anti-government protests descended into clashes in several Iraqi cities on Sunday, including the capital Baghdad and the southern port city of Basra.

In Baghdad, a few hundred young Iraqis returned to Baghdad’s Tahrir Square for a flash protest, clashing briefly with security forces.

Authorities had conducted a major operation to clear a year-long anti-government encampment from the square — the epicentre of the protest movement — and had only reopened it a day earlier.

Iraqi authorities also reopened the nearby Jumhuriyah Bridge, which leads toward the heavily fortified Green Zone housing government buildings and foreign embassies.

The bridge across the Tigris River witnessed fierce clashes between protesters and government forces last year as protesters tried to cross it. It has been sealed off to traffic since.

Security forces try to storm anti-government protesters in Basra, Iraq, Sunday, November 1, 2020. (AP)
Security forces try to storm anti-government protesters in Basra, Iraq, Sunday, November 1, 2020. (AP)

The reopening of the bridge and removal of tents in Tahrir Square appeared to put a formal end to a mass movement that had for a brief moment given many Iraqis hope for the future.

Protests, however, resumed soon after the authorities’ reopening of the square, indicating that the popular movement against corruption and unemployment is still alive and evolving.

Protests on Sunday were not limited to the capital Baghdad.

In Basra, police officers and troops fired into the air to disperse around 500 protesters who had been throwing rocks, correspondents said.

Further south in Hilla, hundreds of students marched with banners decrying the killing and kidnapping of activists in recent months.

“We’ll stay here, for the blood of our martyrs and the love of our country,” said Abrar Ahmed, a student demonstrator in the city.

“It’s our revolution and we must continue it, as not a single one of our demands were met!” she added.

A similar protest took place in the town of Kut, where dozens turned out to demand justice for some 600 demonstrators who have been killed in protest-related violence over the past year.

Unprecedented demonstrations erupted across Baghdad and Iraq’s Shia-majority south in October 2019 as protesters called for jobs, basic services, a total overhaul of the ruling class and an end to corruption.

There has been virtually no accountability for the deaths in those rallies.

Two more activists were gunned down in Kut in recent days.

The “October Revolution” marked its one-year anniversary a week ago, with thousands hitting the streets of southern cities and the capital.

But authorities swiftly reinstated calm, deploying in large numbers in the squares and intersections that were once the hot spots of the anti-government rallies.

Abdallah Ahmed, another student protesting in Hilla on Sunday, insisted the movement was far from over.

“We’re not commemorating the revolution — we’re continuing it,” he said.

In the southern flashpoint city of Nasiriyah, demonstrators torched tyres on a main highway to decry unemployment and poor public services.

Iraq is one of the most oil-rich countries in the world but has suffered chronic water and power shortages for decades.

The novel coronavirus pandemic and tumbling oil prices have taken a heavy toll this year, with poverty rates expected to soar to 40%.