Death toll rises as Iraqi protesters regroup despite brutal crackdown

Death toll rises as Iraqi protesters regroup despite brutal crackdown
An uptick in violence from the Iraqi security forces in recent days has claimed dozens of lives.
3 min read
30 November, 2019
Dozens of people have been killed over the past two days [Getty]
Three more protesters have been shot dead and at least 58 wounded in Baghdad and southern Iraq on Saturday as a violent crackdown on demonstrations continues after Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his intention to resign.

Abdul Mahdi formally submitted his resignation to parliament on Saturday and lawmakers were expected to either vote or accept it outright in a parliamentary session on Sunday, two members of parliament said. 

At least three protesters were killed and 24 wounded early on Saturday by security forces who fired live rounds at them in the holy city of Najaf, southern Iraq, security and hospital officials told the Associated Press.

The city witnessed a fresh bout of violence in recent days as security forces and armed men in civilian clothes tried to snuff out rallies after demonstrators torched the Iranian consulate, leaving more than 20 protesters dead.

Five of them were shot dead by men in civilian clothes who fired on young protesters approaching a revered religious tomb or political party headquarters.

Ongoing protests in Abdul Mahdi's birthplace, the southern city of Nasiriyah, have also seen the deaths of at least 31 people over the past two days.

At least 11 more demonstrators were wounded near Baghdad's Ahrar Bridge when security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Saturday.

The Ahrar bridge is one of three bridges spanning the Tigris and leading to the Green Zone, where many government buildings and foreign embassies are located, that have become hubs for protests in the capital. 

Protests erupted in Iraq in early October, with the mostly young and Shia population of the capital and country's south voicing anger with endemic corruption and economic mismanagement.

Read more: Kidnappings, killings and threats: Inside Iraq's authoritarian turn

The demonstrations have swollen in size, scope and fury since then, with protesters targeting symbols of Iranian influence and calling for a new government. 

Iraqis have been faced by a brutal crackdown in what amounts to the country's biggest crisis since Islamic State group militants seized large swathes of the country five years ago. More than 420 people killed and 15,000 wounded so far, according to an AFP tally.

Dozens of people in Lebanon, in the midst of its own mass protest movement, staged a candelit vigil outside Iraq's embassy on Saturday to denounce the excessive use of force against demonstrators there.

They raised pictures of Iraqi protesters who have been killed since the demonstrations began. Some raised the Lebanese flag, while one woman wrapped the Iraqi tricolour around her shoulders.

The protest movements have been unprecedented for both countries, with demonstrators speaking out against corruption, unemployment, poor public services and two entrenched political elites.

But Lebanese protesters have faced relatively little violence compared to their Iraqi counterparts, although security forces have been criticised for failing to protect demonstrators from attacks by backers of the Shia Hezbollah and Amal movements.

Layal Siblani, the organiser behind the vigil, said the spiralling crackdown in Iraq this past week prompted the idea. 

"The uprising in Iraq and the uprising in Lebanon are one," she told AFP.

"A protester killed there is a protester killed here."

Hussein, at the vigil on Saturday, said Lebanese protesters had a duty towards those in Iraq.

"We have to stand in solidarity with our Iraqi counterparts who are being arrested and killed on a daily basis," he said.

Agencies contributed to this report

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay connected