At least seven people, including one policeman, were killed and over 200 wounded in clashes between protesters and riot police in different parts of Iraq on October 1 and 2. The government has imposed curfews in various major cities, including the capital Baghdad. It has also suspended internet services and blocked social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Thousands of people across the country are demonstrating against the government led by Adel Abdul Mahdi for its failure to provide jobs, prevent corruption and improve the quality of basic services in Iraq.
Since the US military invasion in 2003, the country has been embroiled in constant war, the latest being the Daesh or ISIS-led attempt to create an “Islamic Caliphate” in the region, which was finally foiled in 2017. Despite periodic elections, no government has been successful in bringing back stability to the troubled country.
Similar protests were also held in Basra last year. The demands raised by the protesters varied from the resignation of the prime minister to a reform of the system. However, the mobilizations have seen no clear leadership, with most of the people being mobilized through the use of social media sites.
While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, they turned violent on October 1 after police tried to disperse the protesters by force in the southern city of Nasiriyah in Al-Diqr province. It is here that the maximum casualties have been reported. In Baghdad, protesters tried to reach Tahrir square and the Green Zone, whose access routes were sealed by the government forces, leading to clashes. In Najaf, the agitated protesters set various government buildings on fire.
The government has deployed the army at several places.
Iraq, with a population of almost 38 million, is struggling to provide jobs to its university-educated youth despite being rich in oil resources. The majority of its people are aged below 30. However, the unemployment rate among the youth is as high as 25%. Even by conservative estimates, the poverty rate in the country has increased in recent times to more than 23%,
Iraq’s basic infrastructure has also been destroyed by years of war. The various governments, instead of focusing on rebuilding the country, have been obsessed with security considerations. Additionally, there is a widespread perception of state authorities and political leaders being corrupt. According to different media sources, more than USD 450 billion of public funds have been misappropriated since 2004.
All the major political parties, including Muqtada al-Sadr-led Sairoon Alliance, have supported the major demands raised by the protesters and asked for a special session of the Iraqi parliament to discuss them. The Communist Party of Iraq is a member of the Sairoon Alliance.
Iraqi president Barham Salih tweeted on October 1, terming the grievances expressed by the protesters as “legitimate demands.” Prime minister Mahdi expressed his belief in the right of freedom of expression and speech for all Iraqis. However, he denounced the violence by protesters after a meeting of the National Security Council on October 2. He has also declared a change of policy, asking officials to keep a 50% quota in all future contracts for locals.