Iraq crisis: Protests say anger could boil over Friday after 44 deaths

The protests began on October 1 in the wake of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sidelining a popular Counter-Terrorism service commander.

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October 5, 2019 00:13
2 minute read.
Iraq crisis: Protests say anger could boil over Friday after 44 deaths

Demonstrators disperse as Iraqi Security forces use tear gas during a protest against government corruption amid dissatisfaction at lack of jobs and services at Tahrir square in Baghdad, Iraq October 1, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)

Protesters in Iraq prepared Friday for bloody clashes with security forces in Iraq after three days of protests that saw the government order live fire against the demonstrators. The protesters are angry. They have tried to block roads to the airport in Baghdad and break into the “Green Zone” where foreign embassies are located.  They are shocked that officials have ordered live fire used against them.

The protests began on October 1 in the wake of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sidelining a popular Counter-Terrorism service commander named Abdul Wahab Al-Saadi. But the real reason for the protests are much larger. They are angry over corruption and wage stagnation and lack of opportunities. 

The Prime Minister has closed down internet and sought to isolate cities in Iraq. He gave a speech on Thursday evening and has indicated he could meet the protesters. But there are no clear leaders of the protests. The demonstrators gained some solace when the Shi’ite religious leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani appeared to express sympathy on Friday. Many believed that after prayers on Friday there would be bloody clashes unless the government retrains its tactics. It is not entirely clear which police have been ordered to fire on the protesters, because protesters say they cannot identify them by uniform. Some said it was not the Federal Police but other interior ministry forces. Others claims it was members of Shi’ite militias loyal to Iran, including the Saraya Khorosani unit. But much of this is rumors and has not been confirmed. What is clear is that security forces can be heard in dozens of videos using gunfire. Up to fifty demonstrators may have been killed and thousands injured, including members of the police.



The UN has called on Iraq to have a transparent investigation about the shooting of the demonstrators. “We call on the Iraqi government to allow people to freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”




Protesters say the Iraqi Prime Minister has failed to assuage the anger of the people. In an interview with the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis one protester said they want a caretaker government and will not accept anything else. It is unclear how this will happen. Most Iraqi political parties have no expressed support for the demonstrations. Ye the Prime Minister has pledged changes. Iraq has heard these promises in the past after mass protests in the summer of 2018 and also in 2016.



Friday could be a key day. If more blood is shed it will galvanize the anger and calls for revenge among the protesters. If the government uses restraint it could calm things. But people will want to know who gave the order to shoot the demonstrators and why the government has been so heavy handed in ordering curfews and cutting the internet, behaving more like a dictatorship than a democracy.


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