Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Massacre Of Karbala Protesters As Talk Begins Of PM Abdul Mahdi Resigning

Tahrir Square, Baghdad (Al Jazeera)


During the night of October 28 an unknown group attacked the protest camp in Karbala. The result was hundreds of dead and wounded. This was the single deadliest assault upon the demonstrations since they started on October 1. That didn’t stop people coming out across eleven provinces. The pressure appears to be working as there were the first reports that Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi may be replaced. That may not satisfy the activists however as they are demanding new elections, not just the resignation of the current government.

The massacre in Karbala was the biggest news of the day. On the night of October 28 an unknown group set upon the protest site in Karbala city. According to Amnesty International the army told people not to cross a gate set around the government building. Some people ignored that order and tear gas and stun grenades were deployed. People responded by throwing stones at the troops. At around 8pm a group started shooting at the crowd, and then chasing the people as they fled. An SUV also tried to run people over. There were mass arrests as well. That included going into a hospital and taking people away. In the end, up to 35 might have been killed and around 800 wounded. October 29, the government from top to bottom denied anything had happened. The Karbala governor and police chief said no one had died and that all the videos posted on social media of the violence were fake. That was echoed by Abdul Mahdi’s office of commander and chief spokesman General Abdul Karim Khalaf. The general in charge of the Euphrates Operations Command even claimed that the protesters were armed. A Karbala official told Al Mada that the governor Nassif al-Khattabi and his brother had a crisis sell to deal with the demonstrations and was behind the attack. Al Hurra reported that the Emergency Response Division might have been responsible. The commander of the division is a Badr member who was part of the group set up by Iran to suppress the crowds. This is the type of event you expect to see in dictatorships, or even during Saddam’s time. It was not only another damning strike against the prime minister who stood behind the massacre, but drove another nail in the coffin of Iraqi democracy.

The tragedy in Karbala didn’t stop another round of protests on October 29. Baghdad was said to have the biggest gathering since the start of the unrest. Three universities, the teachers union, and the Bar Association all went out on strike and many went to Tahrir Square. At night, people made another attempt to cross the bridge into the Green Zone. Two people were killed during the day. There were two demonstrations in Babil, one in Musayib where a bridge was blocked, and another in Hilla where government workers came out. Farm workers were also on a second day of work stoppage. Um Qasr, Basra City, Zubayr, Shatt al-Arab, and Qurna in Basra all witnessed gatherings that included university and secondary students, and Basra Oil Company workers. In Um Qasr, people blocked the entrance to the port, which resulted in operations being down 80%. Tribes also threatened to join in. Most schools in Dhi Qar went on strike, and there was a march and sit-in in Nasiriya. People went after a politician’s house, but were turned back by the police. There was a protest at the Gharraf oil field as well. Despite the massacre in Karbala, students demonstrated the next day. People called for civil disobedience in Maysan, and engineers, university students, and health workers protested in Samawah, Muthanna. In Najaf city a sit-in continued, the Bar Association in the province said they were walking off the job, and Moqtada al-Sadr made an appearance flying in from Iran. Last, dentists, electrical workers, Housing Ministry workers took part in Diwaniya. Yesterday, students and professional groups joined in with the young people. That was a huge boost because it showed that the demonstrations were spreading to new sectors of Iraq. October 29 saw the addition of more government workers along with oil workers. If the latter were to go on strike it could seriously affect the economy, putting even more pressure upon the government.

There were additional protests in northern Iraq to support Baghdad and the south. Hundreds demonstrated in Baquba including students for the second day, and the government offices in Muqtadiya were closed. Students at Mosul’s Al Noor University also held an event. Since the start of the protest movement there have been occasional actions in the north. Nothing has been sustained however out of fear of being labeled enemies of the state, which is what happened the last time Sunnis came out.

The Committee to Protect Journalists talked with members of the Iraqi media on the government’s crackdown against them. Besides the usual arrests and attacks upon journalists at protest sites, the government banned live coverage of Tahrir Square. Not only that, but they also told Al Dijlah, Al Arabiya and Al Hadath television stations to close their offices. This happened before at the start of October. When five stations including Dijlah, Arabiya and Hadath refused they were attacked by members of the Hashd who raided their offices, smashed equipment, and beat up the staff. Every year there are protests the government goes after the press. It fears that coverage of the unrest will increase its popularity. In the age of social media however, it’s easy to get news out about what’s going on. That’s the reason why Baghdad shut off the Internet at the start of the month. It hasn’t done it this time around, probably because it had such a detrimental effect upon the economy.

Last, there finally appeared to be moves on the political front. First, on October 28 Moqtada al-Sadr called for early elections to replace Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi. The premier rejected that call and retorted that if Sadr wanted him out he should talk to Badr and Fatah Alliance head Hadi Amiri since together they were responsible for the government in the first place. Amiri told Sadr he had no right to call for the premier to resign, but he would work with Sadr to serve the country. On the other hand, President Barham Salah reportedly called an emergency meeting of the ruling parties in Baghdad to discuss an alternative to Abdul Mahdi. As a sign that this might actually take place, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party told the media that the Kurdish parties would accept a new government as long as their rights were maintained. There was also a report that the prime minister might resign by Wednesday. Will this quiet the crowds? Unlikely since they want not only the government to resign, but a new election law and then a vote to boot out the current politicians. Having a new administration put together by the current elite will likely be more of the same unless they move on these other issues.

SOURCES

Amnesty International, “Iraq: Horrific scenes as security forces resort to lethal force to disperse Karbala protests,” 10/29/19

Baghdad Post, “Two people killed and 100 others injured after security forces attacked demonstrators in Baghdad,” 10/29/19

Bas News, “Iraqi PM Rejects Sadr’s Call for Snap Elections,” 10/29/19

BBC, “Iraq protests: Upsurge in violence despite Baghdad curfew,” 10/29/19

Committee to Protect Journalists, “Journalists injured and detained, broadcasters banned as protests resume in Iraq,” 10/29/19

Al Forat, “The demonstrators withdrew from the front of the Gharraf oil field after their demands were handed over,” 10/29/19
- “A spokesman for Abdul Mahdi: No martyrs of demonstrators in Karbala yesterday and we lying figures announced by unauthorized parties,” 10/29/19

Al Ghad Press, “Demonstrators close the list of Muqdadiya and Muqdadiys Council in Diyala,” 10/29/19
- “Documents .. Bar Association in Najaf announced the strike in solidarity with the demonstrators,” 10/29/19
- “For the second day .. Student marches roam the streets of Diyala,” 10/29/19
- “In pictures .. Babel agriculture employees are on strike for the second day,” 10/29/19
- “In pictures .. Maysan demonstrators denounce government repression and call for civil disobedience,” 10/29/19
- “In pictures .. Medical staff in Samawa organize a stand in solidarity with protesters,” 10/29/19
- “Pictures .. Workers of the municipality of Hilla organize to demonstrate in the province,” 10/29/19
- “Pictures .. Peaceful marches for the second day in Basra University in solidarity with the demonstrators,” 10/29/19
- “Pictures .. Sit a number of educators in Dhi Qar,” 10/29/19
- “Pictures .. Student marches in Basra in solidarity with the demonstrators,” 10/29/19
- “Photos … Diwaniya demonstrations,” 10/29/19
- “The start of student demonstrations and a heavy security deployment in Karbala,” 10/29/19

Al Hurra, “After a bloody night in Karbala .. Sadr appears in Najaf,” 10/29/19
- “Commander of the SWAT forces .. Abu Turab kills demonstrators in Karbala,” 10/29/19
- “Increasing pace of protests in Iraq .. Liberation Square is witnessing the “largest gathering,”” 10/29/19

Al Jazeera, “Iraqi protesters pack Baghdad’s Tahrir square,” 10/29/19

Al Mada, “Information on a brother cell carried out the Karbala massacre and conflicting numbers on victims,” 10/29/19

Al Masalah, “Amiri responds to Sadr’s letter: I have no right to ask the prime minister to resign,” 10/29/19
- “Barzani’s party talking about the conditions for the replacement of Abdul Mahdi .. An indication of the imminent removal of the prime minister,” 10/29/19
- “Demonstrators besiege Hamid al-Ghazzi in Shatrah .. And SWAT dispersed using tear gas,” 10/29/19
- “Leaks on candidates to replace Abdul Mahdi .. Dialogues between the heads of the blocks at the Peace Palace,” 10/29/19

Al Mirbad, “Dozens of Diwaniya electricity workers participate in the sit-in,” 10/29/19
- “Employees of the Ministry of Housing and Construction participate in the sit-in against the government of Diwaniya,” 10/29/19
- “The end of the demonstration in Zubayr chanting the national anthem,” 10/29/19
- “The end of the protest march in Qurna,” 10/29/19
- “Hundreds of Basra oil cadres organize a solidarity stand to support popular protests,” 10/29/19
- “Hundreds of engineers are organizing a unified demonstration in Samwah,” 10/29/19
- “The sit-in continues in Sadrin Square in central Najaf,” 10/29/19
- “A student demonstration in Al-Jazeera Al-Fourth area in Shatt Al-Arab district east of Basra,” 10/29/19
- “Students of the medical group at Muthanna University join the demonstrations,” 10/29/19
- “Students of the Southern Technical University in Basra in solidarity with the popular protests,” 10/29/19
- “Syndicate of Dentists in Diwaniya participate in the sit-in,” 10/29/19
- “Video tribes in Basra threaten: We will go down to the demonstration yards if demands not met,” 10/29/19

Nasiriya TV, “In pictures: Demonstrations in Nasiriya in Haboubi Street,” 10/29/19
- “Most schools in the province go on strike,” 10/29/19

NINA, “Commander Of Euphrates Operations: Some Demonstrators In Karbala Carry Light Weapons,” 10/29/19
- “High Commissioner For Human Rights: A Demonstrator Killed And 142 Injured From Security Forces And 50 Demonstrators In The Events Of Karbala Demonstrations Yesterday,” 10/29/19
- “Hundreds of demonstrate in Baquba to demand reform,” 10/29/19
- “Protesters block the old bridge road in the middle of Musayyib district,” 10/29/19
- “Student Demonstrations Continue In Baghdad And Mustansiriya Universities,” 10/29/19
- “Students of Al-Noor University College in Mosul organize a solidarity stand with the demonstrators in Baghdad and the southern provinces,” 10/29/19

NRT, “Abdul Mahdi To resign As Iraqi Prime Minister On Wednesday: Source,” 10/29/19

Reuters, “Iraq’s Sadr calls on rival to join him in ousting PM,” 10/29/19

Rwanduzy, Mohammed, “Iraq protests: Tens dead overnight in ‘massacre’ in Karbala: witnesses,” Rudaw, 10/29/19

Al Sumaria, “Security source: 70 cases of suffocation and injury near the bridge of the Republic,” 10/29/19

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