‘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.”


Lebanon MPs call for extra security

Updated 31 min 9 sec ago

Lebanon MPs call for extra security

  • Violent protests and clashes greet Hassan Diab government as budget talks loom

BEIRUT: As Lebanon’s new government gets down to business, MPs’ biggest concern seems to be their own security.

In the wake of violent protests in the past week, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday asked Lebanese army chief, Gen. Joseph Aoun, to take “exceptional measures” to protect the parliament’s surroundings.

The plea to beef up security follows clashes outside the Lebanese parliament and the burning of a photograph of new Prime Minister Hassan Diab near the government’s headquarters.

Almost 500 people were injured in Beirut at the weekend after security personnel fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets at demonstrators who threw stones, attempted to invade the Parliament building, and attacked bank offices and shops.

The formation of a new government ends months of political deadlock and economic decline following Saad Hariri’s resignation as prime minister in October in response to mass protests over corruption and mismanagement.

With the country facing growing unrest, the rising levels of violence represent a stern test for the new government as it completes a ministerial handover.

Parliamentary guards were busy this week erecting concrete walls on roads leading to the parliament.

One military official told Arab News that “safe passage” will be restricted to MPs to prevent a repetition of Nov. 19 clashes when protesters blocked access to the parliament.

Parliament is due to meet on Monday and Tuesday to approve a draft budget for 2020.

Shops and businesses facing the parliament’s entrance and access points have borne the brunt of violent protests in recent days.

A manager at a Rolex outlet said: “We haven’t decided to close the shop completely yet. We are living day by day. During the day, everything is normal, there’s traffic and people, but in the afternoon, protesters take over. We hide the merchandise in a safe place, close the shop, and leave. Today, we decided to cover the glass fronts with steel plates so that they won’t be destroyed by protesters.”

Protesters used petrol bombs as well as firecrackers for the first time on Wednesday night, according to security personnel.

Jan Kubis, the UN special coordinator in Lebanon, tweeted that some protesters were attempting to “provoke the security forces, undermine civil peace and fuel sectarian strife.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Lebanon will face a terrible financial crisis in the coming weeks. We are ready to intervene and provide support, but only to a government committed to reform.

“This is important to the US, but if you look at the protests taking place in Beirut and in cities outside Beirut, you can see, just like in Baghdad, they are not protesting against America, these are protests calling for sovereignty and freedom. The protests taking place in Lebanon today are to tell Hezbollah: Enough is enough.”

The EU described the formation of the Lebanese government as a “fundamental step toward ensuring the country’s ability to address the multiple crises affecting it.” It also urged the government to implement “structural reforms to answer the needs and the expectations of the Lebanese people. Adequate protection must be ensured for the most vulnerable groups in society.”

Ralph Tarraf, EU envoy to Lebanon, said: “We are ready to positively commit to assisting the government if it implements constructive reforms that can improve the government’s performance.”