One killed and 13 injured as security forces fire on Iraqi protesters

The protests in Baghdad are part of a wave of dissent that has swept the country since 2019. The protesters sought the arrest of those responsible for political assassinations, and also demanded that the economic crisis be addressed

May 26, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Protesters in Baghdad on Tuesday. Photo: Iraqi Communist Party/Facebook

One Iraqi protester was killed and at least 13 others were injured after security forces fired at Iraqi demonstrators in Baghdad on Tuesday, May 25. The demonstrations took place at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, as well as the al-Nisour square. The protests are part of a wave of dissent in the country that began in October 2019 and has continued despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protesters carried posters with the photographs of those who have been killed in the demonstrations, as well as victims of assassinations. They also displayed banners which read “Stop the Impunity” and “Who Killed Me,” pointing to the fact that the Iraqi government authorities are yet to arrest the culprits in the majority of cases of targeted killings. No punishment has been meted out as well to any of the security forces personnel responsible for shooting dead at least 600 unarmed protesters since 2019.

On May 9, prominent anti-government activist Ihab al-Wazni was killed in the city of Karbala. After his assassination, the protesters gave the government a deadline of two weeks to apprehend his killers. The demonstrations on Tuesday were also a response to the government’s failure to solve the case. Media reports said many of the protesters had traveled to Baghdad from other parts of the country to attend the protest. They had originally planned to march on the al-Jumhuriyah bridge to make their way towards the heavily guarded Green Zone of the capital housing diplomats and US military forces.

Even though the demonstrations were peaceful, the security forces repeatedly blocked protesters from getting on the bridge, and proceeded to attack them with live ammunition, tear gas, metal batons and stun grenades. In response, the protesters threw stones and other projectiles at the security forces. The security forces also arrested at least four people who they called infiltrators and alleged that they were carrying weapons so as to incite violence, according to an Iraqi military statement.

Many protesters also told news outlets that they will boycott the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in October. Several other long-standing demands of the protest movement, such as a solution to issues of widespread unemployment, poverty, corruption and inadequate public services, have also not been met in the past two years. This has led to many protesters terming prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi as worse than his predecessors and the elections as nothing but an exercise to “recycle garbage.”

According to the Iraqi Independent Commission for Human Rights, 35 activists have been killed since October 2019, and there have been close to 81 attempted assassinations in the same period. Ali al-Bayati, spokesperson for the commission, said that last year saw 15 assassinations and 30 attempted killings. Explaining why the assassinations continue to take place, he said, “Impunity comes from the failure of state institutions to bring the perpetrators to account. This gives them the green light to continue.” The international NGO Human Rights Watch has also denounced the government’s inaction and failure to prevent these killings and expressed concern about a climate of fear that could prevent ordinary Iraqi citizens from taking part in the elections.

The Iraqi Communist Party is among the political parties that has decided not to participate in the October elections. Its leader, Raid Fahmi, called the situation volatile and said, “The people are frustrated. If the doors of democracy and free, transparent elections close, this could lead to a new wave of violence.”  The party, on Sunday, paid homage to all the slain activists and protesters, calling them martyrs. It also joined the call for demonstrations yesterday and stressed that the government should punish the culprits of the assassinations. Additionally, it called upon the government to make the social and political environment conducive for the holding of free, fair and transparent elections. The statement also denounced the government’s failure to control the various militia groups operating in the country.