Saturday, October 5, 2019

Have Iraq’s Protests Reached A Tipping Point?

(AFP)

Protests continued across Baghdad and southern Iraq. Some of the political class and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani made statements about reforms and having the government resign. However they didn’t seem to be enough as calls for revolution were being heard more and more. The demonstrations could be reaching the point where they will not accept anything less than radical change, which the ruling elite are incapable of delivering. That means only force will quell them, and that’s already being used more and more by the authorities.

Baghdad continued to have the largest and most violent gatherings. For the last several days Tahrir Square was blocked off by the security forces (ISF), but people continue to march there and attempt to cross the bridge that heads towards the Green Zone where the government is seated. Increasingly the ISF is firing into the crowds to break them up, and a reported 10 died during the day, including one journalist. The ISF has also started shutting down major intersections in the city to try to limit movement. There were still protests and clashes in various neighborhoods such as Shaab, Husseiniya, Zafaraniya, New Baghdad, Shula, Amil, and Sadr City. Again, live ammunition was used and several people were killed in those areas. The ISF reported that snipers shot people in downtown killing two civilians and two police, but there were other stories of gunmen in other districts as well. There is more news of unknown groups or Hashd attacking demonstrators. For example a hospital was raided, and a TV station had its office set on fire. Finally a coordinating committee for the protests in Baghdad issued a list of demands including the government resigning, elections, and voting in a new political class. Very quickly gatherings in the capital have spread from focusing upon Tahrir Square to various districts. The police are no longer holding back and shooting directly into crowds increasing the death toll. News of mysterious groups and snipers could be a return of the Hashd coming out to shut down the unrest as happened last year in Basra when riots broke out. Baghdad appears to be increasingly out of control of the authorities, hence the turn to the paramilitaries and more repression and use of force.

There were fewer demonstrations in the south, but continued clashes. Like in Baghdad, the ISF are shooting at crowds to disperse them as occurred in Basra, Maysan, and Najaf. There was also a gathering in Muthanna. Dhi Qar has been especially wracked with protests with 3 more killed there by the police. Wounded demonstrators were brought to a hospital and arrested before they could enter. In Diwaniya, Qadisiya the provincial council building was stormed and 3 killed. In Najaf, the governor and governorate police chief both accused saboteurs of infiltrating the protests, and causing the violence. Similar rhetoric was heard last year in Basra as politicians attempted to discredit the people in the streets. Like in Baghdad the order has apparently been giving to the security forces to immediately shoot at crowds as the quickest way to subdue them. It’s too early to tell whether the violence and deaths have led to the reduction of provinces taking part in the protests in the south. By the end of the day the Human Rights Commission reported 60 deaths across the country since October 1.

Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi continued with his weak responses to the month’s events. The day before he gave a televised speech blaming the protesters for the violence and loss of life. On October 4 he ordered the end of the curfew in Baghdad on Saturday morning, and said he was committed to fighting corruption and reforms. The government has always tried to use carrots and sticks to control demonstrations, but the premier has been especially inept. His words are simply repeating promises he’s made since the start of his administration a year ago, and repeat what previous leaders have said for the last decade plus. They have no way of silencing the streets, and only make him look more ineffectual.

Other religious and political leaders have chimed in, but like the prime minister don’t seem to understand how angry people currently are. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani used his Friday sermon to call for an end to violence, while saying that the parliament and courts should carry out reforms. Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his Sairoon bloc to boycott parliament, called for Abdul Mahdi to resign, and new elections. Former Premier Haidar Abadi also said new voting should be held and provincial councils suspended. Finally, Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Halbusi told the protesters he supported them, and invited them to come to the legislature to go over their demands on Saturday. Again, can any of these statements appease the crowds? The ayatollah’s statement appeared as out of touch as Abdul Mahdi’s because none of the post-05 Iraqi governments have proven capable of serious change. Sadr and Abadi at least have heeded the calls for new elections, but the government is evenly divided between them and their opponents, so nothing is likely to happen. Having demonstrators come to parliament and say they want all the lawmakers out is also likely to go nowhere as well.

With the body count growing due to government sanctioned violence, the likely appearance of Hashd groups adding to the repression, and the inability of the elite to come up with suggestions that can engage the street the turmoil across Iraq is likely to continue. The south should be especially important to watch, because if less people show up due to the killings that would be a huge hit. Baghdad however seems embroiled in rage and fury for the foreseeable future.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Violence escalates in Iraq even after top cleric urges calm; at least 53 now dead in protests, clashes,” Associated Press, 10/4/19

Al Hurra, “Sadr calls for the resignation of the Iraqi government and early elections,” 10/4/19

Iraq Newspaper, “Instead of Joint Operations, Abdul-Mahdi Heads A Meeting A Police Headquarters In Nasour Square To Prepare For Saturday’s Clashes,” 10/5/19

Al Jazeera, “Iraq protests: All the latest updates,” 10/4/19

Al Masalah, “Demonstrations moment by moment: tripartite meeting at the headquarters of Baghdad Operations with the participation of the Governor of Baghdad and the Minister of Defense,” 10/4/19

Al Mirbad, “Army and shock forces disperse the Basra demonstration with live bullets,” 10/4/19
- “Reporter Dhi Qar: continued to fire live bullets with various weapons and there is difficulty in movement and ambulances transport the injured,” 10/4/19
- “Dhi Qar Health Department: 2 killed and 31 injured, four of them police, the outcome of today’s demonstrations,” 10/4/19
- “Our correspondent: dozens gathered in Muthanna in preparation for the start of a demonstration,” 10/4/19

Nas News, “Abadi joins Sadr: early elections and freezing of provincial councils,” 10/4/19

Rwanduzy, Mohammed, “Iraq protests leave 15 dead, 200 injured in southern province of Dhi Qar,” 10/4/19
- “Iraq’s top Shiite cleric calls for reform, end to violence,” Rudaw, 10/4/19

Shafaaq News, “For the fourth day..Security disperses demonstrations with live bullets in Iraqi provinces and the fall of victims,” 10/4/19
- “Militias ‘burn the office of a satellite channel and government agencies storming the office of Tigris TV’ in Baghdad,” 10/4/19
- “Protesters block vital roads in Baghdad, clashes with security and casualties rise,” 10/4/19

Sky News Arabia, “Our correspondent: two protesters killed in Diwaniya province in southern Iraq,” 10/4/19

Sotaliraq, “Coordinating demonstrations in Baghdad demand the dismissal of the government and dissolve the parliament, introduction to 6-point paper,” 10/4/19
- “Human rights: 60 dead in Iraq protests,” 10/4/19
- “Yasiri: Najaf is a red line and engineers burned government and party headquarters with Molotov cocktails,” 10/4/19

Al Sumaria, “The commander in chief of the armed forces instructed to lift the ban at 5 am,” 10/4/19
- “Halbousi invites representatives of demonstrations to come tomorrow to Parliament,” 10/4/19

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