Anti-government demonstrations have resumed in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and several other cities throughout the country after a three-week hiatus.
Iraqi police on Friday fired live ammunition and volleys of tear gas canisters to disperse thousands of protesters that had gathered in Baghdad, where at least two people were killed and more than 200 others were wounded.
Iraqi soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades on Friday as protesters tried to cross a bridge leading to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the US embassy and Iraqi government offices.
At least two demonstrators were killed, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said. Commission member Ali Bayati said „preliminary information“ indicated those killed had been „hit in the head or face by tear gas canisters“.
Demonstrations also took place in other parts of the country on Friday, including in the southern city of Nasiriyah, where at least 3,000 protesters stormed the provincial government building and set it ablaze, police sources told the Reuters news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Ghoneim said rallies were being held elsewhere in Southern Iraq too, including in the cities of Basra and Samawa.
„There are people throughout Iraq who have now finished Friday prayers and headed to areas in their cities to protests,“ she said.
Kommentar von Sinan Antton auf Al Jazeera:
Our corrupt political system is beyond reform or repair, but young Iraqis will continue to fight for a new Iraq.
This October has been one of the bloodiest months in Iraq in recent memory. More than 150 Iraqi civilians were murdered in cold blood and 5,000 were wounded. The culprit is neither the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) or its affiliates, nor the car bombs that claimed scores of innocent lives for so many years. The perpetrator this time is the Iraqi regime, which used unprecedented and unnecessary lethal force against citizens who were exercising their legitimate right to protest against a dysfunctional political system and a corrupt political class.
The outbreak of these protests is neither surprising nor unprecedented. Back in 2011, the tide of Arab revolts that swept Tunisia, Egypt and Syria reached Iraq and it had its „Day of Rage.“ But the massive protests that broke out that year in Iraq were quashed by the authorities. In recent years, protests against massive corruption, unemployment and failing services have become almost seasonal. Particularly in the scorching summer months when electricity shortages and lack of sufficient potable water exacerbate an already angry citizenry. Seething with anger, Iraqis in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities take to the streets to voice various demands. The protests are suppressed and eventually dissipate and/or are hijacked by this or that political force. Promises of reform from the government follow every time, but change never materialises.
While not surprising, this month’s protests are markedly different from those of previous years in several respects. Unlike previous ones, this wave was totally spontaneous. It did not come in response to a call from, nor was it organised by, any party or groups of activists. The protests were triggered by anger following news of the demotion of Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, the commander of Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism force. Al-Saadi gained wide popularity after spearheading the liberation of Mosul from ISIL two years ago and came to be seen as a national hero who transcended sectarian divisions and projected a sense of Iraqi patriotism. But the general’s demotion is merely one of many symptoms of a corrupt system and a political class deemed by most Iraqis as beholden to external influences and interests and lacking any legitimacy or sense of loyalty to Iraq.
The sense of despair and disappointment the protesters feel and their desire to reclaim Iraq was crystallised in one of their main chants: „We want a country.“ These protesters are young Iraqis who came of age in the wake of the Anglo-American invasion of 2003. The invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, but it also dismantled the Iraqi state and its institutions, dictated a flawed constitution, installed a sectarian-based dysfunctional system, and populated it with parties and politicians, many of whom were allies if not pawns of the US, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The country’s vast oil revenues are cannibalised by massive corruption and feed a voracious oligarchy with transnational partners, while leaving millions hungry and humiliated. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Index, Iraq is the world’s 12th most corrupt country. It was once the most corrupt country in the world. Perhaps this is why some Western journalists have started to write stories about the improvement in Iraq in recent years. A total of $450bn of public funds has evaporated since 2003. These young protesters have lived under this system their entire lives and incurred the heaviest of losses.
What further distinguishes this wave of protests is that its throngs are not middle-class citizens. The protests erupted in impoverished working-class neighbourhoods and slums where the failure of the state and the misery of daily life is most visceral. The lives and stories of these young men and their families rarely make it to journalistic reports about Iraq, which have lately tended to naively suggest that life is improving in Iraq after the defeat of ISIL two years ago.