Two killed, dozens injured as Iraq anti-government protests escalate

Two killed, dozens injured as Iraq anti-government protests escalate
Iraqi security forces deployed tear gas and live bullets in its latest crackdown on anti-government protests, reignited following a brief lull in the campaign.
4 min read
20 January, 2020
The passing of the deadline marks the dawn of new popular uprising, activists say [Getty]
As the deadline for Baghdad authorities to implement long-awaited reforms was reached, Iraqi security forces cracked down violently against thousands of anti-government protesters on Monday, dispersing crowds with tear gas and live rounds.  

According to The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site, at least two people were killed and 67 injured, while Iraqi authorities report that 14 of its security forces sustained injuries suppressing demonstrators.

Brutal measures

On Sunday evening, young protesters sealed off motorways and bridges across Baghdad and Iraq's south, torching tyres and constructing makeshift barricades.

Security forces, sanctioned by the National Security Council, deployed brutal measures against the camps on Monday, arresting nine young men who attempted to seal a major Baghdad intersection.

Pressure on the government was ramped-up near the heart of the protest movement, with pop-up rallies held outside Baghdad's iconic Tahrir Square.

Hundred's then descended onto nearby Tayaran Square, where they were met by riot police, who deployed tear gas and live rounds to disperse them, a journalist told AFP. 

Young men clad in helmets and gas masks, to protect themselves from the authorities' flying canisters, erected barricades to push riot police back. They succeeded when their ranks were bolstered by other protestors from other camps, according to The New Arab.

Skirmishes took place throughout the night, with several dozens wounded, including some with gunshot wounds, a medical source told AFP.

"They [Iraq's political elite] are mistaken - as mistaken as when they believe they can end the uprising through murder and repression"

In the southern cities of Kut, Nasiriyah, Baqubah, Amara and the holy city of Najaf, crowds rallied through the streets, leading provincial authorities to announce an official holiday on Monday.

Protests have escalated following a loss in momentum amid spiralling regional tensions.

Last Monday, protesters gave the government a week to meet their demands.

Read more: Iraq gripped by mass disobedience following killing of two protesters

These include a call for election under a new voting law, an independent prime minister to replace outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and for all corrupt official to be held accountable.

Intolerable repression

In Baghdad's Tahrir Square, a young activist spoke to The New Arab about the campaign to pressure the government.

"Protesters have shown remarkable restraint in their dealings with the ruling class, offering them ample time to find an independent candidate to lead the interim government as well as enough time to launch an investigation into the death sqauds in Baghdad and other cities. Yet these callls fell on deaf ears," the protester said.

"They [the ruling class ] believe the uprising is now over. They think they can choose any candidate, whose interests are aligned with theirs, to lead the country and implement a foreign agenda within Iraq soil."

Since October, around 500 people have lost their lives to protest-related violence and another 25,000 have been wounded, according to an AFP count.

Basem Khashan, an Iraqi MP who also spoke to The New Arab, described the scale of the retribution Iraqi political elite for their government actions during the crackdown.

"The recent wave of killings and repression protesters have been subject to by government and allied militias now amplies the list of charges that can be brought against caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, ministers and security officials," Khashan said. 

"I cannot rule out the possibility they are handed death sentences for the massacre they are responsible for."
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN envoy to Iraq, issued a clear warning to the government.

"Violent suppression of peaceful protesters is introlerable and must be avoided at all costs," she said, adding that ignoring protester demands would only fuel "anger and distrust".

"Any steps taken so far to address the people's concerns will remain hollow if they are not completed."

While protesters have directed their criticism at the US, it is Iran they regard as hindering Iraq politically and economically.

Tehran holds major sway in Iraq, consolidating up firm ties with a broad field of political and military players over recent decades.

Protesters see Iran's overreach as contributing to endemic corruption and poor services.

The World Bank says one in five people in Iraq live below the poverty line, even as the country is OPEC's second-biggest crude oil producer.

Youth unemployment is staggering and Transparency International ranks Iraq the 12th most corrupt country in the world.

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