Numerous citizens in the nation of Iraq have taken to the streets in protest of the nation’s government for the past two months. Last Saturday, however, saw a major highpoint in the ensuing violence of the protests. A number of armed attackers appeared to the protests in Baghdad where they began shooting at crowds of civilian protesters. At least 20 Iraqi civilians have been declared dead since the incident. The attackers have been unidentified and were not able to be detained. Witnesses claim the attackers drove into the protests in armored trucks and targeted key sites of protest in the nation’s capital.
This is not the first instance of the protests becoming violent. An estimated 400 people have been killed ever since the protests began in early October. For reference, the Hong Kong protests that have been ongoing since mid-March have only identified two deaths. Two deaths in nine months seems like nothing compared to the four hundred deaths in just over two months. Earlier in the previous week, also in Baghdad, several civilians were stabbed after “supporters of an Iranian-backed militia” entered into a public square of protesters (BBC). Iraqi police have not been resilient in their efforts against protesters. The police have not been sparing in their use of live ammunition and tear gas to thwart crowds of protestors. The attackers in Baghdad have not, however, been identified to be associating with the police. That being said, their relation with the Iraqi government has not been confirmed either.
The goals of the protests in Iraq have been identified as very similar to the protests in Hong Kong. The protesters are generally under the age of 30 and consist of primarily students and undermined members of society, mainly women. The protests began after vehement public disapproval towards the government of Iraq. The government has been cited as relatively unhelpful towards the nations epidemics of unemployment and “dire public services” (BBC). The government has also been accused of corruption, which eventually led to their prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, stepping down from his position earlier this month. Despite that, however, the protesters have continued their public demonstrations in hopes doing away with the entire regime in Iraq in favor of a more democratic system.
Adil Abdul-Mahdi served as Iraq’s prime minister from October of 2018 to the first of December this year. Abdul-Mahdi previous served as the Vice President of Iraq from 2005 to 2011 before joining the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s parliament, in 2014. Abdul-Mahdi gained great support from his constituents in the Council as an independent. Abdul-Mahdi, however, was very controversial among public opinion. His public opinion took a nose-dive after he demoted Iraq’s counter-terrorist chief, Lt. General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi in late September. Lt. General al-Saadi was greatly appreciated among the Iraqi population and his demotion was seen as an insult to the public. Many have also identified the move as a major catalyst towards the protests. After the first two months of protests, Abdul-Mahdi stepped down in hopes of calming the protesters. His decision barely changed a thing.
Iraq has suffered greatly from rising terrorist groups operating within its nation for the past several decades. The rise of al-Qaeda was one of the most notable terrorist organizations: greatly affecting the entire Middle East, as well as a number of Western countries. The country was previously in an extremely dire state under the reign of President Saddam Hussein. Hussein was believed to have ties to al-Qaeda, which along with possessing weapons of mass destruction greatly kickstarted the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. While neither turned out turned out to be inherently true, his removal from power was lauded by the Iraqi people. ISIS also greatly weakened Iraq, as well as their ability to be viewed as innocent to the rest of the world. ISIS, however, has not claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday.
Protests due to the unstable government have not been uncommon in Iraq. The current protest is not a surprise to many political analysts who viewed the event of another protest breaking out as very likely. Is the struggle for regime change sometimes worth fighting for? Nobody knows how much longer the protests are going to continue. The government believed the protests would end with the stepping-down of Abdul-Mahdi. However, the protests have raged on. The United Nations has urged the government to stop allowing their counter-protest forces to use excessive force on the protesters. The Hong Kong protests have resulted in key victories for the democratic citizens, including the doing-away of the proposed bill that began the protests and local election victories, and in the process have only lost two live. While the Iraqi protesters clearly have already a point with Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation, the lives they have already lost are staggering. The continuation of the protests may lead to insurmountable loss of life. The message is clear for the protesters, but the government has made it clear that they are not afraid of civilian blood being shed.
BBC. “Iraq Protests: Gunmen Kill at Least 20 People in Baghdad.” BBC News, BBC, 7 Dec. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50698924.
BBC. “The Iraq Protests Explained in 100 and 500 Words.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Dec. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50595212.
Damon, Arwa, and Mohammed Tawfeeq. “Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi Says He Will Resign.” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 Dec. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/11/29/middleeast/iraq-prime-minister-resignation-intl/index.html.