Iraqi protesters have created a 'mini-state' in Baghdad's Tahrir Square

Iraqi protesters have created a 'mini-state' in Baghdad's Tahrir Square
Offering services their government has failed to provide, Iraq's protesters have created a 'mini-state in Baghdad's Tahrir Square.
3 min read
13 December, 2019
Iraqis paint a mural in Baghdad's Tahrir Square [Getty]
Iraqi protesters have created a mini-state in Baghdad's Tahrir square, where they provide services they say their government has failed to.

Border guards, clean-up crews and hospitals offer something for everyone. Roles as diverse as baking bread through to painting murals have created a division of labour and scheduled shifts. 

Chaker, who arrived in Baghdad from the annual pilgrimage to the Shia holy city of Karbala, finds the cooking skills he developed as a pilgrim equally useful at a protest camp.

He provides daily meals to hundreds of protesters. In the morning he coordinates with the other tents around him, dividing up donated sacks of staples, such as rice and sugar, before assigning meals, drinks and sandwiches for the volunteers to prepare.

Chaker's work ethic epitomises the protest movement. Founded on a spirit of self reliance, and despite frequent power cuts, life in the encapment is thriving.

Meet Abu al-Hassan. He works as a guard, who mans the entrance to the square and searches incoming visitors.

He is no stranger to measures such as these. "We Iraqis rub shoulders with the military from a young age, so we pick up a thing or two".

He adds that he does not need "special training" to detect "saboteurs", or defend his "state". 

While men and women scan the perimeters of their state day and night, lapses in security can prove catastrophic.

On Friday, unidentified gunmen stormed a parking building which was occupied by protesters, resulting in the deaths of 24.

Read more: 'It was slaughter'. Iraqis protest as death toll in Baghdad attack rises

In response, protesters have now installed new checkpoints and closed an 18-storey building which overlooks the encampment. 

Despite infiltration by intelligence agents and gunmen able to cross police and military roadblocks as they wish, protesters insist that their mini-state is commited to non-violence. 

Yet as the influence and manpower of Iran-backed armed groups continues to rise in Iraq, the protest enclave has had to build an alliance with another of Iraq's states within a state. 

Unarmed "blue helmets", belonging to Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr's Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) are known to intervene to protect protesters. 

At the start of the protests in October, Ahmed al-Harithi left work as an obstetrician gynaecologist, first to protest and then to care for the injured.

Coordinating with paramedic and tuk-tuk drivers who ferried the wounded, al-Harathi says that a 'mini-health ministry' was soon organised by the doctors' and pharmacists' syndicates in Tahrir.

Through contact with logistics cells to secure donated medical supplies, protesters jerry-rigged connection to the municipal high-tension wires to ensure clinics were lighted at night.

In front of the field clinics today, tuk-tuks can been seen zooming between clusters of protesters, while groups of volunteers sweep the pavement.

Tahrir has never been this clean, say protesters, a far cry from its past neglect by municipal workers.

Houda Amer, a teacher, has not taught her class in weeks. Instead, she spends her days painting the curbs and railing in the square. 

Her "weapon" is her "paintbrush", she declares. 

"Our revolution doesn't want to destroy everything," she said. "We are all here to build our nation". 

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