Thursday, October 10, 2019

Protests Continue In Baghdad But At Smaller Level As Iraqi Govt Promises Reforms

PM Abdul Mahdi gave another televised speech promises reforms to meet demands of protesters (Reuters)


There were small gatherings of people in Baghdad resulting in clashes with the security forces that were barely reported in Iraq. At the same time, Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi is moving forward with his promises of reform, which don’t look to offer much real change.

Tuesday and Wednesday there were small protests in Baghdad. On Tuesday people gathered in Sadr City, and were immediately shot at by the security forces, which has been the official policy for several days now. On Wednesday, people tried to cross the bridge into the Green Zone, which has been attempted nearly every day since demonstrations started on October 1. Again, they were stopped by the security forces. Barely any Iraqi media reported upon these two events, and so therefore they went largely unnoticed as a result. The protests across Baghdad and southern Iraq have largely ended due to the iron fist deployed by the government. Still, some brave souls have still come out over the last two days to face the bullets.

Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement condemning Iraq’s repressive tactics. Based upon interviews with eight protesters and journalists in Baghdad, Najaf and Diwaniya, it confirmed that snipers were used against crowds as early as October 3. The authorities claimed these were unknown gunmen, but AI found that all the fire came from where the security forces (ISF) were. One protester relayed a story of one man being shot by a sniper in Baghdad, and then as people ran to assist him, they were hit as well. In one area of Baghdad the ISF not only stopped injured people from entering a hospital, but arrested them as well. In the Zafaraniya neighborhood of the capital, the government forces surrounded a crowd one day, and then opened fire on them. Finally, the authorities carried out mass arrests, collecting names for want lists that included both protesters and journalists. Hundreds were said to have been detained in Baghdad, Diwaniya, and Najaf as a result. Agence France Presse had a new report that added to AI’s findings, noting that reporters received threats about their coverage of the unrest, and their offices were raided. The head of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory Zaid al-Ajili characterized Baghdad’s policy as terrorizing the media. Last year, when demonstrations turned into riots in south Iraq reporters were beaten, arrested and threatened. This year, the authorities upped the ante attacking media headquarters. Using snipers also showed the extreme level of violence the government forces unleashed as well, and helps explain why so few people are coming out into the streets these days.

Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi was trying to follow through with his promises of reforms to meet the demands of the street. He announced three days of mourning for those killed. The cabinet also said it would provide solar power to poor families, aid to set up small business, jobs for the young, and provincial committees. The premier gave a speech later in the day, saying he would shake up his ministers, repeated the claim that he never authorized the use of live ammunition on crowds, called for national unity, while also warning that those that worked against the state would fail. These continued the platitudes that Abdul Mahdi has been making over the last few days. His claim that he never gave the order to shoot crowds, and then said there would be a period of remorse for those that were killed was especially egregious. Pro-Iran Hashd units were deployed against the demonstrators who are only nominally under Baghdad’s control, but the police, Federal Police, and army were also used and there were plenty of examples of them using heavy weapons against unarmed civilians. Either the prime minister has no control over the armed forces or he ordered the crackdown or when the ISF initially began killing people he did nothing to stop it. As various news reports showed, in the last few days as soon as people showed up the Iraqi forces began shooting. The reforms the PM is talking about are also nothing new. More electricity, changing ministers, more aid to people, this is what the government has been talking about for years, and will not appease the anger with the entire system, which is the real issue. This year’s protests was the boldest example that the ruling parties did not care about the public as they watched the youth die in the streets. Nothing they say about reforms or trying to deny responsibility for the recent events can change people’s opinions.  

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “’Silencing’ of Iraq Protests Coverage Feared After Attacks,” 10/9/19

Amnesty International, “Iraq: Deadly sniper attacks and intimidation as protesters face intensifying crackdown,” 10/9/19

Ebraheem, Mohammed, “Iraq declares three-day mourning period after deadly protests,” Iraqi News, 10/9/19

Al Forat, “Abdul Mahdi announces a reshuffle and the date of submission of the names of special grades and positions,” 10/9/19

Nabil, Steven, “Aljumhoriya bridge in #baghdad, the security officer shot a live ammunition directly under the feet of a protester who said I am not scared keep shooting! his is not how you deal with unarmed protesters,” 10/9/19

Sotaliraq, “Source: Demonstrations start in Muzaffar Square in Sadr City,” 10/9/19

Xinhua, “Iraqi gov’t issues 2nd package of measures amid protests,” 10/9/19

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