Several Casualties At Protest In Baghdad, Iraq

On Tuesday, May 25th, 2021, several people were severely injured during protests in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. One of which, passed away at a later date. According to the international news provider Reuters, Iraqi security forces fired live rounds into the air to disperse the protests taking place against the government. Many were protesting the Iran-backed militias as well as Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s lack of an answer for the dozens of Iraqi activists shot dead in different parts of the country. Many of these deaths were the result of unnamed militias supported by Iraq’s neighbor, Iran. Similar protests took place in 2019, and hundreds upon hundreds of protestors were killed during that time. The former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was forced to resign. It will be interesting to see if a similar event occurs this time. 

Protests against the Iraqi government started towards the end of 2019. There were many grievances against the government. There was considerable corruption, including large-scale bribery among government officials. Unemployment was at an all-time high, and there were inefficient services for the general public. In a broader sense, people also wanted an end to a political system dictated by different religious sects: the sectarian political system. In a sense, the United States had an impact on the formation of this government due to its invasion of Iraq in 2003. The invasion created a large sectarian divide between the Shia and Sunnis, the two major religious groups in Iraq. A combination of all these issues brought together many Iraqi citizens. Several civil activists joined together and spread information on social media. These smaller protests gradually became bigger, until protestors were calling to completely overthrow the Iraqi government. Government militia used live bullets, hot water, pepper gas, and tear gas against the protestors. These are similar to the tactics used by police against Black Lives Matter protesters in the summer of 2020. 

The majority of the October 2019 protests took place in Kerbala and Baghdad. During the day, protests were peaceful with many protestors from various socioeconomic backgrounds walking the streets. During the night, this was different. Younger people were involved in violent confrontations. They used Molotov cocktails and tire-burning to combat the Iraqi militia’s rubber bullets and tear gas. In some cities, the militia had even set up snipers and patrol vehicles that could be deadly if things got out of hand. By December of the same year, 29 activists had been assassinated by the government’s militia. The killers were labeled as “unknown gunmen” and no action was taken by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and his government. Also in December of 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked. The attack was thought to have been organized by Iranian proxy leaders Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Hadi al-Amari, and Faleh al-Fayyad. These men were all part of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an anti-governmental group that is majority Shia Muslim. They crossed into the Green Zone, the heavily fortified governmental center of Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy, without being blocked by security. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was taken into custody and was jailed in Kuwait for attacks he perpetrated on French and U.S. embassies in December 1983. He was later assassinated in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport. In response to the drone and airstrikes, the Iraqi parliament called for U.S. troops to be removed from the country. The Popular Mobilization Forces have been fighting against the Iraqi government for approximately two years now. Recently, Iraqi security arrested Qasim Muslih, the leader of the Al-Anbar faction of the group, for killing civil activists.

The situation hasn’t changed much since 2019. Many activists and protesters are being killed in crossfire between armed anti-government groups and the Iraqi government. It is crucial that the U.S. acknowledge its role in the introduction of the Iraqi sectarian government with their 2003 invasion. It is also crucial for non-governmental organizations to raise awareness of several human rights issues in Iraq, such as inadequate access to public services.