Sunday, November 10, 2019

After Shutting Down Basra Protests Crackdown Moves To Baghdad

(Reuters)

The Iraqi security forces (ISF) closed the protest sites in Basra. With that being done the government has now moved onto Baghdad in what increasingly looks like a crackdown to put an end to the demonstrations.

After a week the government successfully broke up the protests in Basra. Starting November 5 the ISF attacked the sit in site at Um Qasr which had shut down the port. People came back the next day however, which prompted a two pronged assault on November 7 at both Um Qasr and Basra city where a sit-in was also organized. That operation lasted two days and led to the deaths of up to 17-18 people. By November 9, there were no longer demonstrations at either site. The blockade of Um Qasr was having an economic impact upon the country, but the one within the city was like others across the country meaning largely peaceful with some spurts of violence burning government buildings. When the protests originally started in October the ISF were pre-emptive breaking up gatherings before they could even start. This turn towards violence seems like it originated from outside the province and comes as there are more reports that the ruling parties have made a deal to keep Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi in office so they might retain their positions and power, and in turn force will be used against the protesters.

With Basra cleared the focus now appears to be on Baghdad. On November 9 the ISF swept people off of three bridges that cross the Tigris River in the middle of the city, Al-Shuhada, Al-Ahrar and Al-Senak, as well as out of Al-Khalani Square. 6 more people were killed in the process by tear gas canisters and live ammunition. The Baghdad Operations Command denied that it used either in the latest example of how the ISF is being politicized to repeat the government’s line. If the security forces can keep people off the bridges the next move would be to clear them from Tahrir Square which has been the main protest site in the country.

The authorities are working covertly as well. Agence France Presse talked with people in Baghdad who said that they were being followed, that undercover police were working in the crowds collecting information on those involved, and people have disappeared. Sabi al-Mahdawi was abducted going home from Tahrir. An activist Ali Hashim was killed on November 8, and a professional bodybuilder Mushtaq al-Azzawi escaped an attempt on his life November 9. These are only the cases that got into the media. There are likely many more. These tactics were used against the protests last year and continued for months after they were done. If this year’s unrest is put down, demonstrators will likely face the same repercussions as well.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Threats, killings: Iraqi protesters face ‘psychological’ war,” 11/9/19

Al Hurra, “Iraq .. Resumption of operations at the port of Umm Qasr,” 11/9/19

Karim, Ammar, “Seven dead in Iraq as security forces clear protest sites,” Agence France Presse, 11/9/19

Al Mirbad, “After two hot nights .. Basra Square sit-in without demonstrators in the morning,” 11/9/19
- “Baghdad Operations: There were no victims among the demonstrators in al-Khalani Square and no live ammunition or liquefied gas were used,” 11/9/19
- “Basra bids farewell to another martyr who was injured in a demonstration in Umm Qasr,” 11/9/19
- “Human Rights in Basra: 12 killed and 313 injured between demonstrators and security members in two days,” 11/9/19

NINA, “Clashes between protesters and security forces take place on Al-Senak bridge in Baghdad,” 11/9/19
- “Security forces disperse demonstrators in al-Khalani, in Baghdad,” 11/9/19
- “Security forces use tear gas to disperse demonstrators in al-Rasheed Street and al-Shuhada and al-Ahrar bridges in Baghdad,” 11/9/19

Shafaaq News, “An Iraqi sports hero who participated in the protests escapes being assassinated in Baghdad,” 11/9/19

Sotaliraq, “Sources: Six protesters killed in Baghdad,” 11/9/19

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