On October 2nd, Iraqi citizens took to the streets of Baghdad protesting against corruption, unemployment, and the lack of basic services.
Nine people including a police officer have so far been killed, most of them in Nasiriyah, and more than 400 people have been wounded, according to health authorities.
Protesters gathered in the capital’s Tahrir Square, and spread to the al-Shaab neighborhood in the city’s north, and Zaafaraniya in the south.
The main road from central Baghdad to the city’s international airport has also been blocked by protesters.
The tension has been exacerbated by a near-total internet shutdown, the closure of government offices and at least one overnight explosion that hit the Green Zone, where some ministries and embassies are located.
The presumed attack came hours after security forces sealed the Green Zone, fearing protesters would swarm the government buildings and foreign missions.
The protests on October 1st were focused in Baghdad, with them spreading to other cities on the 2nd day.
In the holy city of Najaf and in Nasiriyah further to the south, security forces fired on protesters and curfews were declared. Protests have also spread to Iraq’s southern oil-hub of Basra, Dhi Qar, and other parts of the country. Nine provinces have reported unrest, according to Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR).
The top United Nations official in Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert met with some protesters in Baghdad to call for “direct dialogue” between them and government officials.
“The ability to preserve the right to protest is a sign of political and democratic maturity. Moreover, the use of force only fuels the anger,” she said in a statement.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry released a statement ordering security forces to be on “high alert” to protect government buildings and diplomatic missions.
The US embassy in Baghdad released a statement itself condemning the violence on both sides.
“US embassy in Baghdad continues to monitor recent protests closely,” the statement read.
“The right to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental right in all democracies, but there is no place for violence in demonstrations from any side.”
— U.S. Embassy Baghdad (@USEmbBaghdad) October 2, 2019
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its travel advice to UK nationals visiting Iraq.
“Large protests have been taking place in central Baghdad since 1 October,” it states on its website. “The Iraqi Security Forces have used live ammunition and tear gas against the protesters.”
“The road from central Baghdad to Baghdad Airport is currently blocked by protesters. Other protests are taking place in towns across Iraq. You should monitor local media for updates on the situation,” it added.
The Iraqi government and the parliament say they will launch inquiries into the heavy-handed response of security forces.
“At a time when we are saddened and our heart aches due to casualties among our protesting children, the security forces and the destruction of public property… we have at once started undertaking a professional investigation to determine the causes of the incidents,” Iraq’s Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi said.
Abdul Mahdi accused provocateurs of attacking security forces with knives and Molotov cocktails and of “pillaging” public property.
He promised jobs for graduates. He instructed the oil ministry and other government bodies to include a 50% quota for local workers in subsequent contracts with foreign companies.
The Iraqi parliament tasked the Security and Defense Committee and the Human Rights Committee with handling its inquiry.
“The Presidency of the Parliament affirms the freedom of peaceful protests that the Constitution has guaranteed… and calls on security forces to preserve public order while controlling themselves and to not use excessive force on protesters,” a parliament statement said.
Iraqi President Salih also issued a statement on Tuesday, saying:
“Peaceful protest is a guaranteed constitutional right of the people. Our sons in the security forces have the task of protecting the rights of the people, and preserving public order. I emphasize restraint and respect of laws.”
التظاهر السلمي حقٌ دستوري مكفولٌ للمواطنين.أبناؤنا في القوات الامنية مكلفون بحماية حقوق المواطنين، والحفاظ على الأمن العام. أؤكد على ضبط النفس وإحترام القانون. أبناؤنا شباب العراق يتطلعون إلى الإصلاح وفرص العمل، واجبنا تلبية هذه الاستحقاقات المشروعة. الرحمة للشهداء والشفاء للجرحى
— Barham Salih (@BarhamSalih) October 1, 2019
“Iraq’s youth expects reform and job opportunities, and our duty is to meet these legitimate entitlements,” he added.
Iraqis took to the streets around the same time in 2018, but the protests died down after a while, it appears that very little has been achieved after one year of waiting.
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