Fresh protests in Iraq demand elections, justice for those killed by security forces

The protesters reiterated the demands from when the anti-government agitation began in October 2019. They took place despite the new prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi making conciliatory gestures and promising to address their demands

May 11, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Iraq protests
Protesters accused the government of being part of the traditional elite which was responsible for the corruption and economic crisis.

Iraq saw a new round of protests on Sunday, May 10, just days after the formation of the new Iraqi government under prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. The demonstrations took place in major cities such as Baghdad, Babel, Wasit and Nasiriyah.

In the capital, Baghdad protesters gathered in Tahrir (Liberation) square despite the norms against such mobilizations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protesters shouted slogans against the government, such as “the people want the fall of the regime”, and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the security forces standing guard at the adjacent al-Jumhuriyah bridge, which connects the city to the high-security Green Zone. They accused the new government of being part of the same old corrupt and incompetent Iraqi political and business elite who are responsible for the poverty, unemployment, mismanagement and misgovernance.

They also reiterated several of their original demands from when the protests began in October 2019, including early elections, a new voting law, a complete reform of the country’s political  system and removal of the existing ruling class. The protesters sought an investigation into the killing of more than 600 protesters by the security forces since October 1, the date when the anti-establishment protests began.

The southern city of Wasit saw protesters burning down the headquarters of the Badr organization, as well as the home of a member of the Iraqi parliament of a different political faction.

The protests went ahead even though prime minister al-Kadhimi had on Saturday, May 9, announced a few conciliatory measures including promising thorough investigations into the killing of protesters, and releasing those who are in prison. The prime minister had also called upon the parliament to adopt the new voting law needed for fresh elections, a key demand of the protesters. In another major move, he reinstated and promoted general Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a popular military figure among the protesters, to the position of the head of Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service

Al-Kadhimi also announced the reversal of the previous government’s decision to block all state spending, including salaries and pension payments for civil servants, adding that pensions will start being paid out in the next few days. This decision will affect one in every five Iraqi citizens.

Nevertheless, some of the protesters told al-Jazeerah that Al-Kadhimi has only 10 days to prove himself, and if he fails to meet their demands, the protests will intensify.