Iraqis take to streets for ‘October 25’ mass protests

There is a feeling among the protesters that history is on their side and that the government, which they accuse of corruption, is befuddled and weak in the face of the surging youth.

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October 26, 2019 12:59
2 minute read.
Iraqis take to streets for ‘October 25’ mass protests

Iraqi security forces gather at a checkpoint as cars cross into the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Baghdad residents began converging on the city's Green Zone government areas at midnight just before the scheduled October 25 protests were set to begin on Friday. These protests have been weeks in the making, after 130 people were killed earlier this month in similar protests.

The protests began in areas between Tahrir Square, Jamhuriya bridge and the Green Zone, where young activists shouted slogans and walked down empty streets. Unarmed soldiers also came to join. Members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam militia, some armed, arrived to “protect” the protests. This is because in early October, protesters were shot by snipers, some aligned with the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces. Now it seems that Baghdad is on edge. If there is more shooting, there could be violence from both sides.

By three in the morning, the government had used water cannons to disperse crowds near the parliament building and had also sent some masked security forces to throw flash-bang grenades into the protests. There is a feeling among the protesters that history is on their side and that the government, which they accuse of corruption, is befuddled and weak in the face of the surging youth.

The government clearly does not seem to know what to do. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi released a jumbled statement. Other parties – including the Fatah Alliance which is generally seen as closer to Iran – have been on edge. They don’t want to be seen as against the people. Sadr, whose party is the largest in parliament – but who has led past protests in the Green Zone and views himself as an anti-corruption leader – has sought to capitalize.

But the young protesters say they don’t want political parties taking over their struggle. They plan to protest in nine southern and central cities, mostly in Shi’ite areas of Iraq. Sunni cities, damaged during the war on ISIS, have remained silent. ISIS is still a threat north of Baghdad. In the Kurdistan region in the North, observers are watching carefully.

There is a belief that the Friday protests could bring change and that they are part of a larger protest movement in the region, such as in Lebanon, which is against sectarianism and the interests of “foreign agendas” or old parties linked to the past. These kinds of protests have broken out throughout the region over the last year, from Algeria to Sudan, and were given voice at Tunisia’s recent election. But it is not clear if the change they want is coming. The old regimes and the monarchies, dictatorships and sectarian agendas have shown that an uprising from the street is often hijacked and then crushed.


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