Over 100 Iraqis have been killed and thousands injured after the government launched a crackdown on mass protests last week.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets against corruption and poverty since Tuesday of last week.
Security forces fired live ammunition and teargas at protesters in cities across Iraq who are demonstrating against corruption and poverty. At least 400 people have been injured.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the capital Baghdad and cities in the south such as Basra, Najaf, Nasiriya, Amara and Hilla. Marchers have reportedly chanted for the “downfall of the regime”—the unifying slogan of revolutions across the Middle East in 2010 and 2011.
Security forces sealed off large parts of Baghdad in response and authorities have imposed curfews in many cities. The government has also heavily restricted internet access in an attempt to make protests harder to organise.
Some of the worst violence happened in Nasiriya where counter terrorism troops fired on demonstrators after police reportedly “lost control”. And there was fighting in Baghdad after a day of mass demonstrations on Wednesday.
Al Jazeera journalist Imran Khan reported sounds of gun fire “all through the evening”.
Yet protesters defied the crackdown. “Despite the curfew we are going out to protest to call for our rights,” one told the Reuters news agency. “We want to change the regime. They have arrested our people. They have done things to our people they did not even do to Islamic State.
“They have beat them up and humiliated them while firing live gunfire. What did we do? Are we suicide bombers? We are here to call for our rights.”
Protests erupted on Tuesday and appear to be overwhelmingly made up of young people angry at unemployment.
Youth unemployment is at 25 percent. And although Iraq has the fourth largest oil reserves in the world much of its population lives in poverty, without decent healthcare, education or power and water supply.
One protester, 27 year old Abdallah Walid said, “We want jobs and better public services. We've been demanding them for years and the government has never responded.”
Another said, “The people are being robbed. The people are now begging on the street. There is no work, you come to protest, they fire at you. Live gunfire.”
Demonstrators have already forced prime minister Abdul Mahdi—who has said he will “learn the reasons” for the protests—to promise more jobs for university graduates. But he has not ended the violent repression.
The new movement comes off the back of similar protests in southern Iraq earlier this summer and in 2018. Protesters there also demanded better public services, and an end to low pay, unemployment and corruption.
And in elections last year the Sairoon Alliance—a coalition of Communists and the Sadrist movement that is associated with the protests—won the most seats in parliament.
Moqtada Al-Sadr, a leader of the alliance, has called for a general strike despite the fact his party has a minister in the government.
Protesters are also angry at the removal of Abdulwahab al-Saadi from his role as head of Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service.
He is credited with defeating Isis in 2014, and is seen as non-sectarian and non-corrupt. Yet he is also apparently favoured by the US, and is therefore disliked by Iran.
Iran became influential in Iraq—and a challenge to the US’s dominance—after the invasion of 2003, and after its forces fought Isis in 2014. Complaints of corruption often relate to Iranian influence in Iraq’s politics and industry.
Yet the protests are not pro-US. The corrupt government system and the rampant poverty are a legacy of the US’s invasion in 2003.
The protests, which are united across sectarian religious divides, are a challenge to all those who have brought death and poverty to Iraq.