Defying crackdown, thousands of Iraqis keep protesting
Thousands of Iraqi protesters stood fast in Baghdad's central Tahrir Square on Sunday, defying a bloody crackdown that killed scores over the weekend and an overnight raid by security forces seeking to disperse them.
Young men had erected barricades on a bridge leading to the capital's fortified Green Zone against security forces who continued to lob tear gas canisters towards them. Medical and
security sources said 77 people had been injured.
"We give you our life and blood, Iraq," they chanted.
At least 74 Iraqis were killed on Friday and Saturday and hundreds wounded as demonstrators clashed with security forces and militia groups in a second wave of this month's protests
against Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's government. About 231 people have been killed in October.
Despite the OPEC member country's vast oil wealth, many Iraqis live in poverty or have limited access to clean water, electricity, basic healthcare and education. Iraq is struggling
to recover from years of conflict following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein.
Iraqis blame a political elite they say is subservient to one or other of Iraq's two main allies, the United States and Iran. Many suspect these powers use Iraq as a proxy to pursue
their struggle for regional influence, without concern for the needs of ordinary people.
Violence erupts during protests in Iraq
Iraqis ushered in October with anti-government protests in Baghdad. These quickly deteriorated into violent confrontations resulting in hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths. Unease remains in several cities. By Cristina Burack
Days of violence: despite promises of reform by the government, protests against corruption and mismanagement in Iraq continue. Once again on Friday people gathered in central locations in the capital Baghdad, as well as in the south of the country
Protests without end: following days of violent protests, a curfew was supposed to provide peace and quiet - after all, at least 100 people have died and some 1,600 have been injured. However, many demonstrators ignored the curfew and spent the night outside to protest further
Protests without a party: these are by no means the first protests against the difficult living conditions in Iraq. In some places, there are only four hours of electricity a day, and according to the World Bank, youth unemployment stands at 25 percent. Iraq's most senior Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani called for "serious reforms" before it was too late
Lockdown: there is already talk of the first protests "without flag, without posters and without party slogan". They were, however, obviously fanned by the dismissal of a popular general, Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi. In Baghdad, the demonstrators tried to enter the so-called Green Zone. Numerous government buildings and embassies are located in the high-security district
Allegations of police violence: security forces have been using tear gas against demonstrators since the beginning of the protests. The UN Human Rights Office in Geneva also fears that police officers have been using live ammunition and rubber bullets. Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi came under fire when he praised the security forces and blamed the unspecified "attackers" for the violence
The country's president, Barham Saleh (photo, March 2019), reiterated his condemnation of the violence and called for "restraint and respect for the law". "Peaceful protest is a constitutional right granted to citizens," Saleh stressed. The Human Rights Committee of the Iraqi Parliament criticised the "repression" of the protests
"I ask you Abdul Mahdi, it's been 16 years and you've done nothing. We're going from bad to worse," said Ma'azir Yas, who had wrapped herself in an Iraqi flag. "This protest is peaceful and the young men only ask for their rights: jobs and services."
Protesters were locked in a cycle on Sunday of advancing deeper into Tahrir Square and towards the Green Zone which houses government buildings, then retreating when the barrage of tear gas canisters became too much.
The smell of the gas was potent in all corners of the square as security forces fired it indiscriminately and directly at protesters, not into the air.
Many used creative ways to defend themselves including one protester who used a satellite dish as a shield. Tuk-tuks swarmed around, carrying injured young men to ambulances.
Young men cleaning up the square said they feared a repeat of Saturday night's crackdown by security forces, when the demonstrations in Tahrir Square were broken up with tear gas and stun grenades. Some protesters have regrouped.
Thousands also gathered in the three southern cities of Nassiriya, Hilla, and the Shia holy city of Kerbala.
Protesters set fire to the provincial council building's entrance in Kerbala and security forces used tear gas to disperse them. Police also used tear gas to disperse protesters
in Hilla. Sunday's protests in Nassiriya were peaceful.
Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service said on Sunday it had deployed in the streets of Baghdad to protect important state buildings "from undisciplined elements".
Two security sources had told journalists on Saturday that the Service's forces in Baghdad had been told to "use all necessary measures" to end the protests against Abdul Mahdi's government.
Counter-terrorism forces beat and arrested dozens of protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya on Saturday night.
The unrest has broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq, which from 2003 to 2017 endured a foreign occupation, civil war and an Islamic State insurgency.
It poses the biggest challenge to Abdul Mahdi since he took office just a year ago. Despite promising reforms and ordering a broad cabinet reshuffle, he has so far struggled to address the protesters' complaints.
Political alliances backing his fragile coalition government have begun to fracture, making his position precarious. (Reuters)