Iraqi Deaths Amidst Crackdown On The Tishreen Revolution

Since the eruption of anti-government protests in October, up to 400 people have been killed and upwards of 15000 have been injured according to the UN. There were a multitude of reasons for the initial protests – economic hardship, unemployment, corruption, a lack of basic infrastructure, perceived Iranian influence on Iraqi government and so on. They have been stoked by the lethal response from Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed militias. The ultimate goal of these protests is to dismantle the current political system, built in the aftermath of the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

Activists and protestors have been intimidated and assassinated, and there continues to be allegations that the security forces are violating the human rights of arrested protestors by conducting mass arrests and torturing individuals.

In response to the deepening political crisis, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned on 29 November, and President Barham Salih has formally requested that the Iraqi parliament name a new PM. However, this is a protracted process; the installation of a new PM may take months, and Mahdi will not step down until a replacement is named – and so, the protests continue.

The rising death toll has concerned many leading figures; the Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has reminded Parliament of their vital role in bringing peace to the country and has pleaded for urgency in proceedings or “the country will pay a high price, and everyone will regret it.” Meanwhile, the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions against multiple militia leaders linked to Iran who have attacked protesters in Iraq and promised the spread of these sanctions to officials who deal with these militia leaders.

It is evident that steps are being taken to calm the situation. However, violence has been continuously used as tool to repress peaceful protestors. Iraqi security forces and Iranian backed militias are attacking Iraqi citizens in order to intimidate them and dilute their influence on politics to protect the interests of other actors. However, the process of democracy must be allowed to continue unimpeded, and the state needs to take steps to ensure that citizens are able to exercise their right to voice their concerns about the government. Additionally, the world should follow the lead of the U.S. and impose sanctions on individuals who are backing the violence through monetary support for militias.

One man, interviewed by the New York Times, said that, “This is a revolution of the poor, of the disappointed.” He is not wrong – the situation in Iraq appears complex with the number of actors involved being difficult to grapple with and the situation being compounded by continued instability generated by historical rivalries. However, the root cause has always been the failure of the state to support its people by providing basic services.  The protestors are primarily struggling Shiite Muslims originating from South Iraq. This group has already survived a brutal regime under Saddam Hussein; his fall should have signalled the end of deliberate economic exclusion and government repression. Instead, Iraq has fallen back into old patterns. Consequently, so have the protestors. Their struggle against Saddam Hussein was couched in violent resistance, and so these patterns have recreated themselves against the current government as we move into the next decade. It seems nothing has changed.

The protests and the violence show no signs of slowing down. The world looks on, also seemingly with no plans to intervene. The prospect of peace in Iraq appears to be a far-off possibility. The Iraqi state, and the rest of the world, must first affirm and then demonstrate their commitment to peace and take steps to protect innocent citizens.