Iraqis marked one year of protests as they turned out in Baghdad and other places in central and southern Iraq on Thursday.
Iraq has suffered from lack of infrastructure investment and no “peace dividend” for the thousands of Iraqis who served in the battles against ISIS that ended in 2017. Iraqis feel their country is being taken over by militias and corruption. They came out to protest last year and were met by bullets, usually fired by pro-Iranian militias.
Hundreds of Iraqis died in the protests, and thousands were injured. For the past year, protest leaders and activists, including many young men and women, have been systematically hunted down and executed or kidnapped. Security forces responded by killing protesters last year, Amnesty International reported Thursday.
Iraq’s militias, many affiliated with the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units, are part of the government’s paramilitary forces but are loyal to Iran and pro-Iranian political parties. They include Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Badr, and Saraya al-Khorasani. They number some 150,000 men.
Videos on Thursday showed Baghdad’s Tahrir Square full of protesters. Last year, the activists were responsible for bringing down the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi, a largely ineffectual leader who had served since 2018.
Several designated prime ministers failed to form a government until Mustafa al-Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief and activist, formed one that promised hope and an end to impunity for attacks. But Iran has undermined him by activating the militias to attack US forces and convoys that supply US troops.
The US has handed over eight facilities to Iraq as pro-Iran militias demand that its forces leave. Pro-Iranian groups in Mosul fired rockets at the Kurdistan autonomous region Wednesday night. They fired a rocket at Baghdad, killing a family, on Tuesday.
It is unclear whether Kadhimi can rein in the militias. In June, he tried to send counterterrorism forces to detain them, but they were released.
The protesters say they will not give up and will continue to fight for a better Iraq and a future not controlled by Iran and corruption. Many of them were born with no memories of the Saddam Hussein era. They grew up when Iraq was occupied by US forces and riven by violence of the so-called “surge” against insurgents.
They came of age as ISIS attacked Iraq in 2014 and almost laid siege to Baghdad. After years of hellish battles with the genocidal ISIS fighters, they went home to Basra to find schools that lack water and sewage in the streets.
Iraq imports electricity and goods from Iran even though it sits on more than 5% of the world’s oil reserves.
The protesters want answers. They want to know who sold their future. So far, they have yet to receive an adequate answer.