Four months into Iraqi protests, violence escalates again

Iraq’s national protests, raging since early October, have entered their 115th day amid a new bout of violent crackdowns by security forces

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq’s national protests, raging since early October, have entered their 115th day amid a new bout of violent crackdowns by security forces. 

The country's leading political parties remain deeply divided over who will succeed Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who announced his resignation in early December after previous deadly crackdowns.

The issue of who will take Abdul Mahdi’s post has been the focus of a key demand of protesters, who have rejected all candidates so far put forth by the two leading blocs in the Iraqi parliament, one led by self-proclaimed nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr and the other by political representatives of Iranian-backed militias.

The caretaker prime minister’s successor will be an interim leader of the government and it will be up to him or her to prepare for early legislative elections, which protesters hope will put an end to the seemingly impenetrable ruling class that has dominated Iraqi politics since the fall of the former regime in 2003.

Violence, though its severity has fluctuated, has plagued the anti-government protests since they began. The brutal treatment of the mostly-peaceful protesters by riot police, elite military units, and Iranian-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) has led to the deaths of over 600 demonstrators and the wounding of over 20,000 others, according to unofficial estimates.

Since crowds first took to the streets, young Iraqis, both male and female, have played a dominant role in the protests, with many boycotting secondary school or university classes to join the tens of thousands gathering to demand change for a better future.

Though Iraqi politicians often voice vague support for the "legitimate demands" of protesters, the deadlock over who should replace Abdul Mahdi illustrates what demonstrators say is the unwillingness of the ruling class to meet such demands in a meaningful way.

Recently, demonstrators appear to be escalating their tactics following parliament's failure to meet a deadline to nominate the prime minister's successor. Crowds have advertised their own picks for the position on posters and signs held at demonstration centers, such as the capital's Tahrir Square.

Related Article: Over 10 killed, 130 injured in past two days of protests: Iraq Human Rights

“We will not stop… and we will step up from peaceful [demonstrations] until all the demands are met,” a protester with a mask covering his face told Kurdistan 24 on Thursday.

Thousands of Iraqis at a time have been blocking main roads connecting Baghdad to other major cities, often by setting fire to multiple tires placed in the streets in an attempt to pressure the political elite into responding to their demands.

While the Iraqi government has said on multiple occasions that a “third party” or “outlaws” have been behind the killings of protesters, senior leaders including former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and a spokesman for firebrand cleric Sadr say government officials have issued orders to kill protesters. 

Editing by John J. Catherine