Iraq gripped by mass disobedience following killing of two protesters

Iraq gripped by mass disobedience following killing of two protesters
Some 15 protesters sustained severe injuries as Iraqi security forces once again initiated a harsh crackdown on Sunday.
3 min read
19 January, 2020
Protesters have "vowed to escalate their rebellion" [Getty]
Mass civil unrest rocked the Iraqi capital and cities across the south on Sunday, as angry anti-government protestors called for swift justice for recents killings perpetrated by security forces.

Two protestors were killed on Friday and at least 20 injured when riot police fired tear gas and sonic grenades to disperse crowds on the strategic Sinak Bridge leading into Baghdad's heavily foritified Green Zone, after protestors attemped to breach cement barriers.

Protestors in Tahrir Square and beyond, including Tayran Square, blocked major bridges and intersections and burnt tires on Sunday, expressing outrage at the continued neglect of their demands.

The movement now seeks a reformed voting law, a new prime minister to replace current caretaker premier Adel Abdel Mahdi and the guarantee of accountabillity for officials deemed corrupt. 

Vowing to escalate

Rallies swelled in the city of Diwaniyah, Kut, Amara and Nasiriyah, where schools, universities and other public buildings remain closed. 

Read more: Two protestors killed, dozens wounded in renewed Baghdad violence: officials 

The renewed unrest was once again met by brute force from Iraq's authorities, who fired barrages of live bullets and tear gas into the crowds.

Activists who spoke to The New Arab's Arabic Language sister site reported at least 15 protestors sustained severe injuries, while vowing "to escalate their rebellion within the next few hours".

Gunmen in unidentified vehicles fired indiscriminately at protestors in the city of Diwaniyah, who had gathered to protest outside an oil product distrubution company, demanding the resignation of its head.

On Saturday night, the headquarters of Iran-backed Hezbollah in the southern holy city of Najaf was set alight, in a symbolic act of frustration over Iranian influence in the country.

A video circulating on social media, purportedly filmed in the city, shows a burning billboard adorned with images of Iran's top commander General Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Shia militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, both killed in a US drone strike. 

Also in Baghdad, thousands of university students, a principal segment of the protestor movement, gathered outside the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to oppose plans to penalise students for class absence and participating in protests, according to the The New Arab.

Breaching deadlines

"We gave the government a timeframe to implement our demands, but it looks like it doesn't care one bit," 20-year-old student Mohammad Kareem told AFP.

"We will keep up our movement and keep escalating to confront this government, which continues to procrastinate," he said.

Last Monday, protesters gave the government one week to make progress on its reform pledges, following a slump in the movement's momentum and a quieting of demands for an overhaul of Iraq's ruling system, amid rising Iran-US tensions.

Fearing that the country would be caught in the middle of the geopolitical storm, Sunday's protests erupted a day before protester's deadline was set to expire.

The protests are the largest and bloodiest grassroots movement in Iraq in decades, resulting in the deaths of nearly 500 and over 25,000 wounded, since October 1 last year.

The Iraqi High Commision for Human Rights recorded the kidnapping of a female activist on Sunday, as protestors continued to face an escalating campaign of intimidation, as well as kidnapping and assissination attempts. 

Apprehensions about a rival protest on January 24, organised by firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, in order to ramp up the pressure on US troop to withdraw from the country, following the parliaments January 5 vote, are rife among protesters.

Last week, Sadr urged Iraqis to hold a "million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations".

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