Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Are Iraq’s Protests Coming To An End?

Pres Salah gave speech condemning violence against protesters and offering more promises of reform (Al Mirbad)


On October 7 there were protests in only two provinces. One of those was Diwaniya where activists said they would end their organizing at least temporarily. Baghdad on the other hand saw another clash with the security forces. Still, this was a large drop from the first day of unrest, and showed that the heavy hand of the government and the large casualty count of civilians were having their effects.

Baghdad had a violent night, a quiet day, and then more violence as the sun went down. Sunday night, the Iraqi police, army and Hashd attacked protesters in Sadr City with heavy weapons and RPGs. 15 people were reported killed as a result. The next day, there was no one out in the streets for the first time in a week. The military who had soldiers deployed to Sadr City admitted that they had over reacted and used excessive force. Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi ordered them out of the neighborhood as a result. At night however, people gathered in Sadr City, attempted to march on Tahrir Square, and were shot at once more. Starting on October 1, people started the day’s mobilization by meeting in central Baghdad and going to Tahrir Square. There were then running clashes in various other neighborhoods such as Zafaraniya that saw several deaths. Monday however, Sadr City was the only place that saw people hitting the streets. The dramatic drop in activity was likely due to the huge amount of violence deployed by the government, as well as the shutting down of the Internet, which hindered organizing.

Likewise, there was only one demonstration in southern Iraq. In Diwaniya, there was a meeting in the center of the city, and then things peacefully ended. Yesterday, organizers told the media that they were going to stop and see what the provincial government did with their demands, which includes having the governor and police chief step down. Activists in Muthanna made the same kind of deal with the authorities there. Finally, people in Dhi Qar reported that a mass arrest campaign started under the aegis of the national intelligence agency out of Baghdad. Journalists were also included. Qadisiya and Dhi Qar saw the biggest protests and crackdowns outside of Baghdad. Like the capital however, it appears that things are quieting down due to the relentless violence unleashed by the government.

Iraqi politicians continued to be out of touch with the seriousness of the situation. President Barham Salah gave a speech where he said that the shooting of protesters was unacceptable and an investigation would be launched Then he promised reforms like fighting corruption, which is what officials have been saying for years now with no follow up ever happening. Even worse, National Security Adviser Falah Fayad claimed that the demonstrations were part of a plot to bring down the government, which had failed. He said the perpetrators would be punished. This mirrored comments made in Iran about enemies of the two countries leading the demonstrations. Finally, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the prime minister and said that that Washington believed in the government and the Iraqi forces. President Salah was the first high official to criticize the security forces for gunning down people in the streets. The rest of his remarks were empty promises. Security Adviser Fayad repeated rhetoric made last year about the riots in southern Iraq, which attempted to discredit the popular discontent by claiming they were being manipulated. Finally, Secretary of State Pompeo was basically supporting the government’s repression. This was a revolutionary moment, where popular anger boiled over, made worse by the shootings by the state. It leaves the future of Iraq largely up in the air. What will happen with the upcoming provincial elections? What kind of credibility will the government have? Will anyone listen to the prime minister after some leaders like Moqatda al-Sadr and Haidar Abadi came out for his removal? Abdul Mahdi was already seen as being ineffective. His standing has dropped to as low as it can go right now. Yet, the Iraqi political system continues with all of its institutional deficiencies as if killing over 100 of its own people was no big deal.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi police replacing army in volatile Baghdad neighborhood,” Associated Press, 10/7/19

Agence France Presse, “Iraq military admits ‘excessive force’ used in deadly protests,” 10/7/19

Baghdad Today, “Renewed demonstrations in Sadr City, east of Baghdad amid the spread of intensive security,” 10/7/19

Davison, John, Rasheed, Ahmed, “Death toll climbs as Iraq unrest hits Baghdad’s volatile Sadr City,” Reuters, 10/7/19

Al Hurra, “Iraq…News of arrest warrants for dozens of journalists and activists,” 10/7/19
- “Witnesses talk about details of live bullets during the night in Sadr City,” 10/7/19

Al Mada, “Army withdraws from Sadr City and arrests in Dhi Qar and Maysan,” 10/7/19

Al Mirbad, “Correspondent: Diwaniya demonstration holds previous demands to dismiss the governor and police chief,” 10/7/19
- “Diwaniya demonstration ends after agreement to resume after 40th visit,” 10/7/19
- “Muthanna correspondent: the demonstrators agree with the police chief to postpone the protests until the visit of forty,” 10/7/19
- “Our correspondent in Diwaniya: Dozens of demonstrators set off from Al-Mostar Street,” 10/7/19

NRT, “Iraqi President Salih Condemns Use Of Live Bullets Against Protesters,” 10/7/19

Salim, Mustafa, “Live bullets injured four protesters,” Twitter, 10/7/19

Xinhua, “Iraqi PM receives phone call from Pompeo over deadly unrest,” 10/7/19

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