‘This is my sacrifice’: Thousands maimed in Iraq demonstrations

Iraqi protesters carry away an injured comrade amid clashes with riot police in Baghdad.
Updated 21 November 2019

‘This is my sacrifice’: Thousands maimed in Iraq demonstrations

  • The staggering number is the latest burden for a country already struggling with one of the highest disability rates in the world

BAGHDAD: A fractured spine, paralyzed leg, hole in the back: Hamza took to the streets of Iraq’s capital to demand a better life but now he has even less than ever.

“This is my sacrifice for Iraq,” said the 16-year-old, his strained voice barely audible over the phone in Baghdad.

“If I could walk, I would be back in the protests now.”

Hamza is one of at least 3,000 people who have been maimed in Baghdad and southern Iraq since anti-government protests erupted on Oct. 1, according to the NGO Iraqi Alliance for Disabilities Organization (IADO).

The staggering number is the latest burden for a country already struggling with one of the highest disability rates in the world, according to the UN.

After decades of back-to-back conflicts, Iraq is in the thick of its largest and deadliest grassroots protest movement, with more than 300 people dead and 15,000 wounded.

To disperse protesters, security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets, flash bangs, live rounds and even machine-gun fire — all of which can seriously maim or even kill, as Hamza learned.

On Nov. 4, the teenager was among around 20 protesters wounded by live fire in Baghdad.

A bullet pierced Hamza’s stomach and exited through his back, leaving a gaping hole.

Two others hit his legs.

By the time he arrived at a nearby hospital, he had lost liters of blood and his heart was failing, said his father, Abu Layth.

Doctors revived the boy with a defibrillator, injected him with four units of blood and rushed him into surgery.

“He was basically dead. The doctors brought him back to life,” he said.

CT scans and medical reports shared by Hamza’s family revealed multiple fractures to his lower spine, leading to paralysis in his right leg.

After more than a week in hospital, the teenager has gone back home and is on steady doses of analgesics.

“Sometimes he screams from pain at night,” his father said.

Iraq has a long history of bloody conflict, from the 1980-1988 war with its neighbor Iran to the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and the fight against Daesh.

Each war has killed tens of thousands and left even more Iraqis impaired for life.

The government’s Central Statistical Organization says that in the wake of decades of conflict, more than 2 million of Iraq’s 40-million population are disabled people entitled to state support.

But IADO and other rights groups say the real number sits at more than 3 million — and counting.

“The number of disabled people continues to grow ... We exit
one crisis and enter another,”
said IADO head Muwafaq Al-Khafaji.

He told AFP his group’s estimate of 3,000 maimed since Oct. 1 is an approximation, as the government is either not documenting or not releasing precise figures.

To fill the gap, IADO
members have been contacting hospitals and reaching out to families in Baghdad and
southern cities.

Although Iraq is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disabled people suffer from poor health services, lack of job opportunities and social exclusion.

They have organized their own rallies in Baghdad as part of the larger protest movement, demanding more support from the government.

“Infrastructure in Iraq is not even equipped to meet the needs of the non-disabled,” said Khafaji. “We need more than just ink on paper.”

Iraq suffers from an extremely dilapidated health care system, with hospitals severely under-equipped and doctors threatened on the basis of political or tribal disputes.

In the protests, rights groups have documented the abduction of volunteer medics as well as arrests of protesters from medical facilities.

The additional strain on both patients and doctors means wounded demonstrators do not get quality care quickly enough, leading to severe wound infections.

Medics have even had to sever limbs to save protesters’ lives, said Farah, a 19-year-old medical student volunteering in Baghdad’s main protest camp of Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

Tahrir is full of makeshift clinics treating protesters, including 30-year-old Ali, who wears a bandage where his right eye should be.

On the night of Oct. 24, the father of four was on a nearby bridge when he heard shots ring out and saw hundreds of protesters scrambling away in panic.

Before he could do the same, a flash bang exploded at his feet and he collapsed, regaining consciousness an hour later in a nearby hospital.

But Ali could only open his left eye, as his other had been lost to a piece of shrapnel.

“They want to deter protesters, but we’re becoming even more determined,” he said, as crowds of bandaged men walked around him.

“The Iraqi people have endured everything. We were born to die.”


Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

Updated 54 min 31 sec ago

Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

  • Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting
  • Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal

VIENNA: The remaining signatories to the faltering 2015 Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Friday with the survival of the landmark agreement at stake after Tehran vowed to continue to breach the deal’s limits on its nuclear program.
Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting, which is the first time the six parties will have gathered in this format since July.
Since May, Iran has taken a series of measures, including stepping up uranium enrichment, in breach of the 2015 deal, with another such move likely in early January.
Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take these measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and reimposition of crippling sanctions.
Since last month, European members have in turn begun raising the possibility of triggering the so-called “dispute resolution mechanism” foreseen in the accord, which could lead to the resumption of UN sanctions on Iran.
On the eve of what was already likely to be a strained meeting, Britain, France and Germany accused Iran of developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, in a letter to the UN on Thursday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed the allegation as “desperate falsehood.”
However, despite the mounting tension observers say Britain, France and Germany are unlikely to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism on Friday when their diplomats attend the joint commission meeting chaired by senior EU official Helga-Maria Schmid.
Analysts say if UN sanctions are re-imposed and the deal falls apart, Iran could also withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
“It’s not clear whether that’s worth the benefit,” Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group told AFP.
But he warned the risk of the deal collapsing was increasing as Iran was “running out of measures that are easy to reverse and non-controversial.”
“Both sides are locked into an escalatory cycle that is just very hard to imagine that they would step away from,” he said.
Francois Nicoullaud, former French ambassador to Iran, also says tensions were expected to continue to rise.
“Maybe it won’t be this time, but (the deal falling apart) will certainly be in the background of the discussions,” Nicoullaud told AFP.


Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani warned Sunday that if European partners triggered the dispute mechanism, Tehran may “seriously reconsider” its commitments to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors the deal’s implementation.
European efforts to shield Iran from the effects of US sanctions by creating a mechanism to carry on legitimate trade with the Islamic republic have borne little fruit, much to Tehran’s frustration.
The EU is growing increasingly concerned by Tehran rowing back from its commitments.
The dispute resolution mechanism in the deal has numerous stages, but it can eventually culminate in the UN Security Council voting on whether Iran should still have relief from sanctions lifted under the deal.
In such a scenario, says Vaez, “we will have a major non-proliferation crisis on our hands in the sense that the Russians and the Chinese have already declared they would not recognize the return of (sanctions).”
Vaez said in the end the path to a diplomatic solution would depend on Washington’s next moves and whether it would at least be willing to relax its attempts to prevent sales of Iranian oil, a vital source of income for the country.
“The remaining parties to the deal have proved incapable of providing Iran with any kind of breathing space,” Vaez said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran is willing to return to the negotiating table if the United States first drops sanctions.