Six days of unrest have left over 100 people dead and thousands injured, as protests and violence have raged with the ongoing Iraqi conflict. On Sunday, 12 anti-government demonstrators were killed in the capital, Baghdad, with seemingly no end in sight.
Interior Ministry Spokesman, Major General Saad Maan, said on state TV that 104 people – which included 8 security force members – had died and over 6,100 were wounded during the past week of fighting. He claimed that “malicious hands” were behind targeting both protesters and security members, yet witnesses at the scene said that they saw security forces shooting at the groups of protestors.
The protests, which started last Tuesday in Baghdad, initially began peacefully but were further ignited by social media with demands for the authorities to address political corruption and the worrying decline of Iraq’s previously oil-rich economy. With thousands congregating, the gatherings soon became violent, with reports that security personnel released teargas and live rounds of ammunition into the crowds.
Yet, in a dramatic turn of events, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, for the first time admitted on Monday that the authorities had used excessive force in their measures to placate the masses. According to the WSJ, in an attempt to prevent revenge killings against the military, the Iraqi government has recognised those killed in the protests as martyrs – a legal designation that gives their families compensation. The government is also assisting those injured, and in some instances, flying them to other countries for medical care. It is also hoped that this new move might avert attention from the continuing fight against any remnants of Islamic State since the group’s collapse in Iraq in 2017.
The paper further claimed that on Monday, leaders announced that they would stop the use of deadly force against protesters and promised new social assistance in an effort to quell the mobs and violence. Iraqi authorities stated that there would be a 4.5 trillion ($3.7 billion) program to help families and unemployed people, which comes as a response to the public’s demands for better welfare and job opportunities. Yet, economists have argued that such pledges could simply exacerbate the social issues, which began because of erratic high spending, low non-oil economic growth, and government corruption.
Last year, the government had promised to find a solution to these issues, yet little has since been done. After coming to power in 2018, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, has continued to create a divide between the elite and ordinary classes and by some accounts, appeared to be even more driven by political class when compared to previous leaders.
The Iraqi people are not just demanding the removal of a government that has continuously not served their best interest, but insisting for a change to a political system that has existed since Saddam Hussein’s rule ended in 2003. It has been one that paved the way for leaders to abuse public funds for their own personal wealth and merits, instead of siphoning it into the general public, who desperately need it.
Meanwhile, across the border in Iran, the riots were closely monitored and regarded as a plot to further complicate the strained relationship between the two countries. Since the war between both nations from 1980 to 1988, Iran’s clout in Iraq has increased after Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.
“Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective,” wrote Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on his office’s Twitter account. “Iran and Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together…This bond will grow stronger day by day.”
By Monday evening, the streets of Baghdad were a little more subdued with a smattering of protestors who remained – burning tyres and demanding that those responsible for the weekend’s killings be handed over. There is uncertainty about what lies ahead for the troubled oil-rich country, with some being hopeful about the government’s latest promises. Outside the capital, Iraqis have agreed to postpone further protests until Oct. 20 – a religious holiday held in memory of the death of Hussein who was revered by Shia Muslims.