Mass protests resume in Iraq to mark first anniversary

About 40 protesters and 17 security forces members were wounded in new clashes, one security source told Kurdistan 24, as protesters marked the first anniversary of “The October Revolution.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Mass protests in the Iraqi capital resumed on Sunday, marking the first anniversary of the mainly youth-led October 25 demonstrations over chronic issues plaguing Iraq, including substandard public services, corruption, and unemployment.

Hundreds took to the streets early in the day, waving large Iraqi flags and carrying pictures of victims of police violence, and gathered again in Tahrir Square to mark what demonstrators now commonly refer to as “The October Revolution.”

At least 40 protesters and 17 security forces members were wounded in renewed clashes, with the police firing tear gas to disperse the crowds and demonstrators responding by throwing stones, a security source told Kurdistan 24.

 

‘The October Revolution’

Last year, Iraq witnessed one of the most massive mass protest movements in its history, as thousands poured into the streets of Baghdad and other cities in southern provinces.

The demonstrations grew by the day and repeated calls on the government to provide essential services, jobs, security, and an end to foreign meddling in the country’s affairs, particularly Iran.

So far, there have been at least 600 deaths as Iraqi security forces cracked down on the movement using excessive force, in violence protesters blame in large part on the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a paramilitary umbrella organization dominated by Iranian-backed elements—known as the Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic.

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The famed Tahrir Square (Liberation Square) became a hub for Baghdad demonstrations, where hundreds would gather daily to voice their demands. The oil-rich southern province of Basra, Dhi Qar, and other provinces in Iraq’s south also witnessed waves of demonstrations.

In the face of growing pressure as members of the security forces and the PMF killed dozens of demonstrators, former Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi resigned in November, despite efforts by Iranian top military commander Qasim Soleimani to maintain the status quo.

The US assassinated Soleimani just outside the Baghdad International Airport in early January. This came after Tehran-aligned groups and close allies of the former general within the PMF upped attacks on bases hosting American troops and the US embassy in Baghdad.

Protesters did not yield, and, on at least one occasion, they torched an Iranian diplomatic office for what they saw as Iranian interference in Iraq’s affairs, as well as multiple headquarters of parties representing Iran-affiliated groups.

Since then, Iraq’s existing crisis has been exacerbated as new challenges threaten the country, including coronavirus pandemic, crashing oil prices, and increased tension between Iraq’s allies on its land: the US and Iran.

The country is experiencing a harsh economic downturn, triggered by COVID-19 and fallen oil prices. Iraq is a Petro-state, meaning over 90 percent of its economy is comprised of revenues from hydrocarbon sales. The country’s public sector is bloated.

The coronavirus pandemic has poured more salt into Iraq’s wounds as the country has registered over 451,000 cases along with more than 10,000 fatalities, as of Sunday, per health ministry figures. The already shrinking health care system in Iraq is now overburdened with spiking COVID-19 cases.

Iraq’s security situation has been challenged by destabilizing and frequent rocket attacks from rouge groups, which the US alleged they’re backed by Iran. The rocket attacks, targeting US Embassy and military bases hosting Coalition against ISIS members, have endangered Iraq’s diplomatic relations with the US as it had threatened to close its embassy unless the Iraqi government reins these groups.

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Editing by Khrush Najari