Deaths Mount As Iraq’s Anti-Government Protests Continue

Seven people were killed on Thursday when Iraqi security forces shot live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas canisters at unarmed protesters in Baghdad in a renewed attempt to crush anti-government protests. According to Al Jazeera, the cause of death was live fire and tear gas canisters aimed directly at protestor’s heads. At least 78 people were wounded in the unrest. Since these unprecedented daily demonstrations began in early October, at least 325 people have been killed and another 15,000 wounded. Iraqis are protesting high unemployment, corruption, and Iran’s growing influence in Iraqi politics. The deadly use of live ammunition, tear gas, and stun grenades against mostly unarmed demonstrators has only worked to stoke public anger and lead to greater unrest.

“Even ISIS wouldn’t shoot at medical staff during the worst of the fighting, but the riot police are sniping at civilians with smoke and teargas grenades,” said Abbas, a military medic who treated those wounded during the protests, in an interview with The Guardian. “After the war against ISIS, I didn’t think I’d see battles this intense again, but the streets and squares of Baghdad have turned out worse. In war, casualties were something to be expected. In the past weeks in the protests, I’ve seen some serious injuries that I rarely came across in battle.”

Protests erupted swiftly on October 1st, with Iraqis voicing their discontent over high unemployment, lack of basic services, crumbling infrastructure, and corruption within the government. Dissatisfaction with the Iraqi government has been mounting for years, with these demonstrations being the largest since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. What started out as peaceful protests quickly turned deadly. “We want the very basic rights: Electricity, water, employment, and medicine, and nothing else,” Mohammed Jassim, a protester, told the Associated Press after the October 1st demonstrations. “But this government is shooting at the crowd.” While the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union have issued statements condemning this use of excessive force, the rest of the international community, including Iraq’s allies, have been relatively silent. The U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials forbids government security forces from using excessive force against protesters. Over the past decade, Iraq has shown that it values freedom of speech, making this deadly suppression all the more worrying.

The government has tried to prevent the world from seeing the extent of its attempts at quelling the protests. Authorities instituted an internet blackout to prevent people from organizing on social media and sharing photos and videos of the protests, then imposed a curfew in Baghdad to keep people off the streets. Security forces have also arrested some Iraqis for expressing support for the movement over Facebook, Human Rights Watch reported. While Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government has taken some less violent measures to subdue the unrest, demonstrators continue to demand an overhaul of Iraq’s corrupted political system in which government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas. This has allowed leaders to abuse public funds and pillage the country of its wealth.

In October, Prime Minister issued a reform plan and agreed to resign if political parties can agree on his replacement. President Barham Salih also promised electoral reforms, but this is unlikely to be enough to appease protestors, who demand a total remaking of the Iraqi government. The question remains whether or not the Iraqi government will actually implement solutions that address the protester’s demands, or if they will continue to issue empty promises while continuing to use deadly force against unarmed protestors.