Iraq preparing for protests on Friday as tensions rise

A government report on civilian casualties in earlier protests failed to address key issues such as Iranian involvement and the role of government officials in the killings.

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)
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)
Baghdad is tense and expecting further protests as Iraqi youth call for large demonstrations on Friday, after a government report on civilian casualties in earlier protests failed to address key issues such as Iranian involvement and the role of government officials in the killings, according to Al-Arabiya.
The report, released after an investigation by the Iraqi government, found that 149 civilians were killed during recent anti-government protests, mostly by shots to the head and chest. Some political parties and activists lamented the report's failure to mention those responsible for the killings, warning of the possibility of even worse unrest than during the protests in October.
Citizens of the Iraqi capital are rushing to shops to buy necessities in anticipation of an emergency situation due to demonstrations, which could block roads between provinces.
Iraqi youth have called for further protests and large demonstrations starting on Friday to demand the dismissal of the government and for early elections. The demonstrations may include a sit-in on the streets of Iraq to overthrow the government, according to Asharq Al-Awsat.
Jassem al-Halafi, a leader of the Iraqi Communist Party and part of the Sairoun political alliance backed by Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, told the London-based international newspaper that he expects the political system to change due to the protests, including the dismissal of the current government and the installation of a transitional one with specific legislative powers. The next government would need to deal with bridging the wealth gap and eliminating weapons outside the control of the state.
In early October, protests broke out throughout Iraq against the deterioration of living conditions and health services, government corruption, unemployment and Iranian interference in the country.
The committee concluded that the large number of civilian casualties was caused by security forces using "excessive force and live bullets" to suppress the demonstrations.
Some Iraqi political parties and activists described the committee's report as a disappointing attempt to calm public outrage about civilian victims who fell while legitimately expressing their right to protest.
Former minister of water resources Moshen al-Shammari told Al-Arabiya that the report is "full of loopholes, raises big questions and did not fulfill the wishes of the victims' families to uncover the perpetrators." Shammari added that the report will lead to intense and angry demonstrations, "double what it was at the beginning of October."
The National Wisdom Movement expressed reservations on "confused recommendations announced in the report which... did not address the problems and abuses recognized by all."
The movement stressed that the report didn't specify who issued the orders for the "sniping, killing and assault," even though it stated that "what happened was an organized act without mentioning who did it and stood behind it.
"The report gives a negative message to the security forces that have made sacrifices to protect the people and their legitimate national rights," added the movement, according to Al-Arabiya.
Earlier this month, Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maal said state security forces did not fire directly at protesters and blamed unnamed “vicious” shooters for the mass deaths and injuries.
"The government report is a miserable report of the crime of a corrupt regime against a defenseless people," said Iraqi academic Hamid al-Sarraf, who also lamented that did not identify who ordered and carried out the shootings nor did it identify masked assailants who were seen shooting at protestors.
Sarraf also questioned why the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces militia, which was accused of supervising snipers who targeted protesters, was part of the investigation committee.
Steven Nabil, a correspondent for Al Hurra news, posted a video of the protests on Twitter, adding that protesters were claiming that men dressed in black were really Iranian.
The first and last responsible for what happened is the political leadership and the executive authority, stressed Sarraf.
The academic mentioned that there will be "historic" events on Friday, October 25, and onward.
Journalist Soadi Salhi pointed out that the report did not mention Qasem Soleimani and the role he played in suppressing the demonstrations, nor the role of the interior and defense ministries.
Protesters in Baghdad reported that militants firing on the crowds were "Iranian speaking in Farsi," stressing that "the Iraqis would not fire" on them.
Those who investigated the report were either ignorant of the investigation or deliberately concealing the facts, said Salhi, according to Al-Arabiya.
"These things will hasten the fall of Adel Abdul Mahdi and his government and will be an incentive for more demonstrators, even those who did not come out weeks ago," said the journalist.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights stated that the government report tried to absorb public anger at the expense of the lives of the victims. "How could the accused officers continue to fire live bullets without being stopped by their commanders?"
Reuters contributed to this report.


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