Protests in Iraq are set to continue on October 25th, after they quieted down after a harsh response from security forces. The demonstrations began on October 1st and lasted until the 7th, before dying down.
An Iraqi government committee investigating a wave of unrest found that 157 people, mostly civilians, were killed because security forces used excessive force and live fire to quell protests, Reuters reported. In addition approximately 5,500 were injured in the 8 days of protests.
The report allegedly said that more than 70% of the deaths were to the head or chest, in a sort of execution style, and held senior commanders responsible, but didn’t blame the country’s prime minister or other senior officials.
“The committee found that officers and commanders’ lost control over their forces during the protests (and this) caused chaos,” the panel said in its report. “There were no official orders from the supreme authorities to security forces to open fire toward protesters or use live ammunition at all.”
The protests receded after October 9th, with demonstrators saying they were pausing their activities during the Shiite religious observance of Arbaeen.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi established the committee to look into the bloodshed, and he has also promised a cabinet reshuffle and reforms including steps to fight graft, and provide government jobs and land to university graduates.
The protests were supposed to begin again on October 25th, exactly one year after Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi assumed his post, but actually began late on October 24th.
Anticipating the protests, Abdel Mahdi made a televised appearance defending his reform agenda.
He said that there would be a cabinet reshuffle and told the protesters it was their “right” to demonstrate as long as they did not “disturb public life”.
He complained that previous governments had not faced the same kind of level of scrutiny and said political figures demanding “reform” had themselves failed to enact it.
The response to the protest was exquisitely harsh. Security forces used real bullets and snipers stationed on rooftops killed protesters. On the second day of the protests, Iraqi authorities shut down the internet in Iraq to block the flow of images and evidence of its crimes and cut off Iraqis from the rest of the world. Several TV stations were attacked and vandalized.
Authorities and officials said that they had no idea who the snipers were initially. Recent reports suggested that they belong to some of the Iranian-backed militias which are part of the Popular Mobilization Units formed to fight ISIS.
Regardless, the protests are to continue, as Rudaw cited some of the demonstrators.
“Saddam Hussein killed 148 people in the Dujail massacre and he was executed for it. Today Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi killed more than 150 protesters and he is still in power,” said Saeed, a protester from Babil.
“Even though I have a job, I protested for the sake of my friends and poor families’ fate, as they need a chance as well,” Saeed said.
On that first day of protests [October 1st], Saeed was shot with a rubber bullet. He said he was targeted by a masked sniper on top of a building.
“I was unarmed and only holding an Iraqi flag when I saw three armed masked men on the rooftop of the Turkish restaurant near the Green Zone targeting protesters,” Saeed recalled. “Moments later one of them shot me in my arm, which made me pass out for more than 30 minutes.”
The Iraqi interior ministry announced on October 24th that security forces and federal police are on “high alert” to protect protesters and government buildings.
“The Iraqi PM and Iraqi interior minister are supervising the situation themselves,” it said in a statement. “Both the Iraqi PM and interior minister urged the security forces to respect the protesters and deal with the protesters according to the principles of human rights.”
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has thrown his support behind the protesters. The influential figure is head of the Sayirun alliance, the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament. He also leads the Saraya al-Salam militia, which is part of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic.
In a long statement published on his Facebook page on October 19th, Sadr called on his supporters and the public to return to the streets on October 25th.
“The government leaders and politicians are in a state of fear because of you. They are completely unable to fix anything within this country,” his statement read. “Therefore, I ask everyone to start the revolution which will clean Iraq from the corrupt and fools.”
On October 23rd he provided a list of advice to demonstrators, telling them to stay peaceful and not give up.
On October 24th, the response of the security forces appears to be violent, but not at the same scale as previously, but time will tell when the protests take place in full force later on October 25th.
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