An anti-government protester flashes the victory sign during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq. AP Photo
An indefinite curfew began in Baghdad at dawn applying to everyone except those travelling to and from the capital’s airport. Ambulances and religious pilgrims were also exceptions to the curfew. 4,000 protesters rallied in Baghdad, defying a government-enforced curfew to call again for improved services, more jobs and an end to widespread corruption. Security forces blocked important roads and bridges and limited access to the internet. Government officials stated the Prime Minister, Abdul Mahdi, is “continuing contacts” with protesters in a bid to end the political crisis and “return to normal life”.
The government Respond to protesters’ demands with force
The demonstrations, which appear to be independent of any political party, started in the capital on Tuesday, and later spread to cities across Iraq’s mainly Shia south. At least 31 people have been killed in three days of clashes. Those demonstrating have directed their anger at Abdul Mahdi’s fairly new government and a wider political class they accuse of corruption. On Thursday, police and hospital sources told Reuters that protesters had been killed in the capital, and also in and around the southern cities of Amara, Diwaniya, Hilla and Nassiriya, among others. In addition to the 31 killed, more than 1,040 people have been wounded and 62 others arrested, according to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights. More than half of those killed in the last three days have been in the southern city of Nasiriya.
Iraq ranked 168 in its Corruptions
Iraqi officials have drawn widespread scorn from many citizens over the past decade, in which a series of administrations have been accused of pilfering up to $450bn in state funds. Transparency International ranked Iraq 168 out of 180 nations in its Corruptions Perceptions Index in 2018. The Iraqi government and World Bank estimated last year that $88bn (£71bn) was needed to fund short- and medium-term reconstruction. Just over one million people are still internally displaced, while 6.7 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, the UN says. Living conditions are dire in many conflict-affected areas, with insufficient basic service.
Why people are protesting in Iraq
Iraq has the world’s fourth-largest reserves of oil, according to the IMF, but much of its population of 40 million lives in poverty and without decent healthcare, education, or power and water supply. 22.5% of its population of 40 million were living on less than $1.90 (£1.53) a day in 2014, according to the World Bank. One in six households has experienced some form of food insecurity. The unemployment rate was 7.9% last year, but among young people it was double that. Ali, an unemployed university graduate, told the AFP news agency on Thursday, “I’ve got nothing but 250 lira [20 US cents] in my pocket while government officials have millions”. The 22-year-old added, “We’ll keep going until the government falls.”
Iran is not far from the Iraqi scene
“There is a sense, particularly in the Shia south, that Iraq is serving regional interests and ‘masters’ than its own diffuse interests. The main external target of complaint seems to be Iran, hence nothing sectarian. However, the reaction of the government is similar to the Irani government’s previous actions. The Iraqi government took the Syrian way of responding to the demonstrations, by using violence and suppression.