Iraq’s October protests are quickly metastasizing into the crisis the government of Prime Minister Adil Mahdi hoped it escaped this year. Starting on October 1, there were demonstrations in ten provinces. The government’s policy this year was to try to break up any gatherings as quickly as possible so that they wouldn’t grow. The security forces however, started with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets, but then fired live ammunition into crowds in Baghdad, Nasiriya and Amara killing four. That angered people so much they were out into the early morning hours in several cities. October 2, things expanded, just what the authorities were hoping to avoid.
The second day of protests spread from ten to thirteen provinces. That included Baghdad, Babil, Basra, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala, Kirkuk, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf, Qadisiya, Salahaddin, and Wasit. In most governorates people gathered outside the provincial government buildings like in Karbala. The meetings quickly escalated in many areas.
In Baghdad, demonstrators went to Tahrir Square, which was blocked off, and tried to cross the bridge into the Green Zone for the second day where the government is seated. The security forces blocked them, and once again fired into crowds. That led to a running battle in the streets with activists moving onto Tayaran and Al-Khalani Squares, and then spread throughout various neighborhoods such as Shaab, Hurriya and Shula in the north, Zafaraniya in the south, Ur and New Baghdad in the east, and people going from Sadr City in the east into downtown. Demonstrators also marched on the airport, and in at least two places blocked the highway to northern Iraq. Three people were reported killed during the day. Things finished with the government blocking the highway from the south into the capital to try to stop more demonstrators from arriving from outside Baghdad, and the imposition of a curfew. This was a huge development in the capital. The previous day, activists were mostly centered around Tahrir Square, and then just a few neighborhoods into the night after news spread that people had died. October 2, things exploded in every direction. People were finding other avenues besides just the center of the city such as the freeways and airport to express their anger.
Maysan Provincial Council Building Burning in Amara (Al Mirbad)
Protests in Basra City (Al Mirbad)
Several government buildings and political offices were stormed and destroyed in the south. In Hilla, Babil, the security forces fired tear gas, but activists were still able to gain entry into the government building and set it on fire. There was a heavy police presence in Basra city. Tires were burned, and eventually tear gas was used to force people away from the government center. Demonstrators were already incensed in Nasiriya over the killing the day before and came back, burned the government administration, along with the offices of a parliamentarian, Badr, and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq. The police killed five people there, and an officer died as well. The city was declared out of control and the Counter Terror force was dispatched. There were protests in three other sections of Dhi Qar as well. The government building, and two party headquarters were set afire in Amara and one protester lost his life. Provincial offices were also burned in Najaf, and Dawa and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq buildings were sacked, along with a march on the airport. A similar situation took place in Diwaniya, and crowds were broken up in Kut. In the aftermath, curfews were announced in Amara, Hilla, Najaf and Nasiriya. The south has traditionally been the heart of the protests every year. They suffer from high poverty rates and underdevelopment. Many people are sick of the ruling parties that always talk about serving the Shiite majority, but have failed to deliver.
Another important development was the expansion of the protests outside of Baghdad and the south to Baquba, Kirkuk and Tikrit. Those didn’t appear too large, but this provides another headache for the authorities to deal with. The south has always been ripe for demonstrations, but these areas have not seen any real activism since the protests against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. If people were to get more organized, this could be seen as a serious threat by Premier Mahdi as the Shiite parties are always suspicious of activism in Sunni areas.
This was exactly the type of crisis that the Mahdi government thought that it could avoid this year. Things are moving very fast, spreading to more cities, the deaths are growing as well as violence, which in turn only makes more people show up. Not only that, but people switched from demanding services and jobs to having the government resign on the first day. Right now the only way out for the authorities might be widespread repression, which was used last year. That could lead to political pressure for Mahdi to step down as he is already considered ineffective and come under increasing criticism from the elite. Either way Iraq looks to be facing several more days of instability.
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