BAGHDAD: Protests continued in Baghdad and seven southern Shiite-dominated provinces on Friday, as thousands of Iraqis demanded the resignation of the government, that Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi stand trial, changes to election laws, and early national parliamentary elections
At least 40 people were killed and about 2,300 wounded, including members of the security forces, when Iraqi forces and guards used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds that had gathered at government buildings in Baghdad and local government and political party offices in the provinces, medics and police sources told Arab News. They added that 50 government and party properties had been set on fire by the end of Friday. A full curfew was imposed in many southern provinces.
The demonstrations began on Oct. 1 in protest against corruption, high unemployment and the poor quality of basic daily services. They continued for six consecutive days but were interrupted when the Iraqi government and its allies led brutal crackdowns on demonstrators, which left at least 147 people dead, including security forces, and more than 7,000 injured.
The protesters returned to the streets on Thursday night, however, after government and parliamentary promises to back their legitimate demands and that they would not be fired upon.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on Friday. Many carried Iraqi flags and shouted slogans such as “Spirit in blood, we redeem you, Iraq” and “No, no to corruption.” Others shouted “Iran, out out” and “Neither America nor Iran, those people are all brothers.”
Most roads and bridges in Baghdad remained open except those leading to the Green Zone, where most of the government offices and foreign missions are located. Riot police used water cannons and tear gas to push back demonstrators who tried to cross Al-Jumhoriya Bridge toward this area. As promised, security forces did not fire on the crowds with live ammunition but still eight people were killed and hundreds injured during the confrontation, including members of the security forces, the Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights said on Friday evening.
A number of factors have caused the demonstrators to increase their demands, according to observers and political analysts. These include the high toll of dead and injured during the first week of protests; Abdul Mahdi’s failure to provide convincing answers about the identity of masked gunmen who took to the streets and executed protesters, in full view of the Iraqi security services; the prime minister’s “prosthetic” solutions to grievances, which focus on providing tens of thousands of jobs without any indication of how this will be financed; and promises of political and governmental reforms that cannot be fulfilled given the current political alliances that are in place.
“When we first took to the streets, we were protesting against corruption, unemployment and lack of services, but after the repression we faced and after killing dozens of our comrades, the demands have changed,” said Alla’a Al-Sebihawi, a 26-year-old protester in Baghdad.
“Our demands now are to dismiss Mahdi and bring him to trial. This man mocks us and the blood of the martyrs. His speeches all are hallucinations and nonproductive. Our slogan today is the trial of Abdel Mahdi. It is a fair demand.”