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Iraq: Protests Erupt Again in Baghdad

Iraq: Protests Erupt Again in Baghdad

Sunday, 6 October, 2019 - 11:15
Protests carrying Iraq’s flag march the streets (AFP)

Protests renewed in Iraq after the curfew was lifted despite continued Internet blackout, four days after rallies and clashes that have left nearly 100 dead in the capital and the southern provinces.

Hours after a curfew in Baghdad was lifted on Saturday morning, dozens of protesters marched in Baghdad, facing live rounds fired in their direction, AFP photographer reported.

Police and medical sources confirmed that five people were killed in Saturday clashes, and earlier that day, the Human Rights Commission announced the death of a protester by live ammunition.

The Commission also announced that five protesters were killed Saturday in Baghdad raising the death toll since Tuesday to 100, while 4,000 were injured.

It explained that the death toll included at least six police officers, who died during the clashes that erupted between anti-government demonstrators and security forces in Baghdad and several areas in the south of the country.

Al-Arabiya channel reported that hundreds of protesters demonstrated near Palm Mall in Baghdad and Palestine Street, while Iraqi security forces fired tear gas to disperse them.

Meanwhile, recent announcement by Leader of the Sadrist movement, Sayyid Muqtada Sadr is expected to turn the tables after he called for the government’s full and complete resignation. This will either increase the protests demanding the toppling of power, or will divert the confrontation from the popular arena to the political arena, that is, the parliament.

Political leaders sought to persuade Sadr to stop calling for the dismissal of the government, but he insisted, raising fears that his followers will join the demonstrations, a possibility that was behind the urgent security alert in Baghdad.

In addition, the Iraqi parliament was supposed to hold a session to consider the demands of the demonstrators, but that was not possible due to lack of quorum, following the decision of Sadr bloc to boycott. With 54 deputies, Sadr's bloc represents the largest parliamentary bloc.

Parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi met with representatives of the demonstrators who handed him their demands, which he promised to meet.

He told protesters “your voice is being heard", and he had been hoping to discuss job creation and social welfare schemes with lawmakers in the session. He even said he was willing to join the rallies if the promises were not fulfilled as soon as possible.

Authorities demanded demonstrators a period of time to implement reforms and improve the living conditions of 40 million people in a country worn out by war, unemployment and corruption. However, Sadr called for “early elections under UN supervision.”

On the street, the protesters' targets have been clear since Tuesday, stressing that no one represents them.

Protesters have insisted their movement is not linked to any party or religious establishment and have scoffed at the recent overtures by politicians.

"These men don't represent us. We don't want parties anymore. We don't want anyone to speak in our name," one protester told AFP.

Expert on Iraqi affairs Fanar Haddad noted that the politicians are now faced by an unprecedented movement, asserting that these protests are unlike traditional summer protests.

"This is the first time we hear people saying they want the downfall of the regime," Haddad said.

Iraqi security analyst Sarmad al-Bayati noted that protests now want decisive changes, like the sacking of leading politicians accused of corruption.

The shops reopened in several neighborhoods of the capital on Saturday, with cafe goers returning to their daily routines, while sweepers began cleaning the streets after the protests.

In the center of Baghdad, home to about 9 million people, the roads leading to Tahrir Square, where the demonstrations began Tuesday, witnessed heavy security deployment, with armored vehicles.

Residents believe the clashes are still possible, until Iraqis see real change in their conditions and country.

“If living conditions don't improve, the protests will come back even worse,” Abu Salah,70, told AFP.

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