When Iraq’s protests started on October 1 they occurred in Baghdad and across southern Iraq. By October 6 they were only happening in three provinces, one of which is supposed to stop by tomorrow. This dramatic reduction is due to government repression that has seen the police, the Counter Terror Forces, the army, and the Hashd all deployed into the streets gunning down over 100 people protesting against Iraq’s corrupt system.
Protests only occurred in one neighborhood of Baghdad showing the decline in activism across Iraq. That occurred in Sadr City. People tried to march to a square, but were met by the security forces who shot at them killing 12. In another sign of escalation there was video released on Twitter of RPGs being fired into a gathering. There was also another attack upon a TV station belonging to the Hikma party. Video was released of one of the media outlets being assaulted yesterday which showed a number of SUVs and armed men in uniforms getting out and smashing equipment. It’s been apparent that some Hashd units have been deployed in Baghdad and other cities for the last several days. The TV stations, the snipers, the mortar fire on Sadr City, etc. all look like the handywork of that body. They did similar, although not as brazen work in southern Iraq last year. The Hashd along with the police have obviously been given orders to use extreme measures to sweep the streets of people and that is working. In previous days people gathered in central Iraq and other neighborhoods in all parts of the city. October 6 that was down to just Sadr City.
There were only two demonstrations in southern Iraq. In Nasiriya people gathered in downtown but were quickly dispersed. The army was also deployed in the city for the first time. Activists said that there was a major arrest campaign going on by the police who had lists of people to round up. In Qadisiya there was a similar occurrence as people were broken up by the authorities by gunfire. Organizers said they submitted a list of demands to the provincial government and will halt their activities until they hear back from them. On October 1 there were protests in every southern province. Now they are down to just Dhi Qar if people in Diwaniya call off their work. During the day the government said 104 people had died, including 8 police, but the real number if likely higher. Again, the deployment of various elements of the security forces, excessive violence and scores of dead have finally deterred people. This could mark the end of this year’s disturbances unless something dramatic happens and motivates people to risk the dangers once again.
The government continued with their feckless response to the demonstrations. The Baghdad Governor Falah al-Gazairy resigned. One councilman told the press it had nothing to do with the protests. An Interior Ministry spokesman claimed that its forces had nothing to do with the attacks upon the people in Baghdad despite tons of videos and eyewitness reports showing them shooting into crowds. At same time, he said that they were investigating who was behind the sniper fire that wracked the capital. These types of statements strain the credulity of the public. They were just the latest examples of how the authorities lacked credibility.
After five days of unrest Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi made his first attempt to address the anger of the crowds, as pressure mounted on him to step down. There was an emergency meeting of the cabinet and a 17 point plan announced. That included subsidized housing for the poor. money for the jobless, job training, mini-loans, distribution of land, enlistment in the army, and compensation for those killed in the protests. At the same time there was a report that seven ministers wanted to resign, and that parties are pressuring Abdul Mahdi to either quit or change his cabinet. Another story had the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq saying that he expected the prime minister to step down, while the American military disagreed. Last year, the government tried to appease the activists first, and then turned to repressive measures. This time, live ammo was used and people started dying on the first day. After the demonstrations have died down, the premier finally offered concessions, which will likely never happen. That also means that the moves to replace him will die down now that there are less people coming out.
It appears for now that the government has escaped this potentially revolutionary moment. Last year, the riots in the south were a shock. There have been protests every year since 2011, but this was the first time they became violent. This year, the police resorted to force right off the bat. That led to an immediate escalation of the crowds that started off on October 1 calling for jobs and services, to demanding the government to be dismissed. Within a few days revolution was heard. People know that the Iraqi political system is corrupt and only wiping away the elite will lead to change. The last two years were the first time Iraqis were showing just how angry they were with the situation. That’s because violence is way down allowing people to focus upon the government. Baghdad might have avoided this crisis, but not addressed its causes. Just as important is how can Iraq call itself a democracy after this type of repression was deployed and the politicians showed they were incapable of responding to the public with anything but the boot?
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