In many countries within the Middle East, protests against supposedly corrupt politicians and governments are becoming more and more common. This has especially been true in Iraq, which since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 has found itself dealing with various political and economic issues since the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein.
Most recently, protesters have taken to the streets to once again demand sweeping reforms within many aspects of the nation’s government. Unfortunately, while earlier protests may have started out peaceful in nature, recent protests have started to turn more violent, and in some cases deadly.
Clashes with Police
As more demonstrations have taken place throughout Iraq, protesters have found themselves clashing more and more with police, often leading to encounters that turn violent. In attempts to bring attention to their cause and disrupt transportation and other vital services within parts of the country, protesters have taken to using a variety of tactics.
Most recently, roads in southern Iraq have been blocked by burning tires, while in Basra concrete barriers have been used in attempts to keep government workers from reaching their destinations. To make sure their point is well-taken, protesters have painted the concrete barriers to resemble coffins of various friends and family members who have been killed during the unrest.
Hundreds Dead Nationwide
As demonstrations continue to take place throughout Iraq, the death toll of protesters continues to rise, fueling even more anger and frustration. As of October 1, estimates put those killed in the various demonstrations at 344, a total that is expected to continue rising as more protests take place.
With demonstrations growing larger in size and as protesters become more angry, government forces and police have taken to using live ammunition in some cases in an effort to disperse protesters. In recent incidents where live ammunition was used, two protesters were killed in the city of Kerbala, while one protester was killed in Basra after being shot by police.
Young People Protesting
While people of all ages are participating in demonstrations across Iraq, the vast majority are younger citizens, many of which are college graduates unhappy about being unable to find suitable employment. Along with demanding an end to political corruption within the nation’s government, many younger protesters are also unhappy about government reforms that were supposedly aimed at helping younger citizens who graduated from college find employment.
While reform has included such things as some state jobs for graduates, stipends for the poor, and promises of election reform, many citizens view these promises as little more than empty words. As many students view their government, the belief is that Iraq’s citizens have been waiting for true reform for over 16 years, only to find themselves still searching for answers and jobs.
While some demonstrations have resulted in protesters being shot dead by police and government security forces, the official government response is one where it downplays the violence.
However, official government statements have admitted mistakes have been made in how protesters have been handled, and that the government is looking into how to better coordinate its actions to deal with demonstrations.
While Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has expressed his concern over the demonstrations and the ensuing violence and financial upheaval within the country, he has placed most of the blame on a select group of protesters he believes are sabotaging various areas in an effort to further their cause.
With no end in sight regarding the demonstrations, both protesters and government officials are looking ahead in an attempt to figure out what to do next. For protesters, this has meant continuing to cause as much disruption as possible. As a recent example, they have attempted to block entry into some of Iraq’s most vital ports, and have also surrounded the Central Bank in Baghdad.
As for government officials, they have taken to continued calls for election reform and other changes. However, with the current parliament closing ranks in an attempt to keep itself in power, few protesters believe any significant reforms will come anytime soon. Because of this, most expect additional demonstrations to take place, leading to more bloodshed and continued disruption in a nation attempting to find peace.