Iraqi Protests Turn Deadly as Police Open Fire
Demonstrators demand government crackdown on unemployment, corruption
[Baghdad] For a second day, hundreds of angry Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad and other cities, blocking major roads and clashing with security personnel.
Officers fired in the air to disperse the crowds.
At least two demonstrators were killed in violent demonstrations on Tuesday, and more than 200 persons were injured, among them 40 members of the security forces, health officials said.
The protests represent a major challenge to Iraq’s shaky year-old government.
More than a thousand angry demonstrators shut down the Jumhouriya Bridge on their way to the capital on Wednesday before security forces met them with a barrage of tear gas and gunfire. Health officials and Iraqi media reported another demonstrator killed in a southern province amid accusations that the police have been using excessive force.
The government blamed “groups of inciters” for the violence and said the security forces were working to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters.
President Barham Salih condemned the violence and called for “restraint and respect for the law,” urging both sides to avoid violence.
“Peaceful protest is a constitutional right granted to citizens,” he said late Tuesday.
The United Nations also urged both sides to show restraint. Its top official in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, expressed “grave concern” on Wednesday, saying she “deeply regrets the casualties.” She urged authorities to “exercise restraint in their handling of the protests.”
Holding Iraqi flags, demonstrators packed the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square, shouting “Those thieves robbed us!” and bearing signs saying “You don’t own this country.”
Angry at politicians, unemployment, corruption and poor public services, many in the crowd told The Media Line they’d “had enough.”
Protester Haider Ali said that politicians do only what best serves their own narrow interests.
“They don’t care about us; all they want is to make money for themselves,” he said.
Ali added that he was “fed up” with promises and no action.
Protester Ibrahim Ammari, a 29-year-old unemployed college graduate, also blamed politicians.
“The parliament is made up of gangs and they just want to get rich with their cronies,” he said.
Many areas of Iraq suffer from frequent power cuts and water shortages.
The protests are the biggest and most threatening to the rule of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi since he took office in October 2018, soon after demonstrations swamped the southern city of Basra and threatened to spark similar violent protests elsewhere.
Iraq is the 12th-most corrupt country in the world, according to the anti-graft group Transparency International. Youth unemployment runs at around 25 percent, the World Bank says.
Abdul-Mahdi has also taken flak over the shock removal this week of Lt.-Gen. Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi as deputy commander of the country’s counter-terrorism service.
Saadi has been feted as a national hero for recapturing Iraqi territory from Islamic State, and protesters have been seen carrying his portrait.