Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

World

Death toll rises to 19 as Iraq protests spread across south

Death toll rises to 19 as Iraq protests spread across south

An Iraqi protester waves an Iraqi Hezbollah flag during a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment in the Baladiyat district of the capital Baghdad on Oct 2, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

BAGHDAD: The death toll from mass rallies in Iraq against corruption and unemployment rose to 19 on Thursday (Oct 3, as the leaderless protest movement spread to virtually all of the south.

Braving live fire, tear gas and local curfews, Iraqis flooded the streets for a third day in the biggest challenge yet to Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi. (Photo: AFP/Tobias Schwarz) Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said his government cannot interfere in court proceedings AFP/Tobias SCHWARZ

The embattled premier ordered a ban on all movement across the capital starting at 5:00 am (0200 GMT), but dozens of protesters defied the order and gathered in Baghdad's emblematic Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

"We slept here so the police don't take the place," one demonstrator told AFP before riot police fired into the air in a bid to disperse them.

READ: Iraqi police open fire, use tear gas and water cannon to disperse Baghdad protests

The protests began in Baghdad on Tuesday but have since spread to cities across the mainly Shiite south.

On Thursday, medics and security sources told AFP that four protesters were shot dead in the southern city of Amarah, another in the province of Dhi Qar and a sixth in Nasiriyah.

An Iraqi protester flashes the v-sign during a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment in the Baladiyat district of the capital Baghdad on Oct 2, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

The deaths bring the overall toll from three days of demonstrations to 19, including one police officer, a figure confirmed by Iraq's Human Rights Commission.

Nearly 800 protesters and security personnel have been wounded.

Tensions have been exacerbated by a near-total internet blackout, the closure of government offices in Baghdad and calls by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for "a general strike."

Iraqi riot police stand guard as protesters take part in a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment, on Oct 2, 2019 in the southern city of Basra. (Photo: AFP/Hussein Faleh)

Before dawn twin explosions hit the Green Zone, where some ministries and embassies are located and which was struck by two rockets last week, a security source in the area told AFP.

The apparent attack came hours after security forces sealed off the compound "until further notice" just a few months after reopening it to the public, fearing angry protesters would overrun it.

IRAQ "LARGELY OFFLINE"

In the city of Kut, two protesters were killed overnight after they tried to storm a local government office, medics and security sources told AFP.

Another two demonstrators died further south in Nasiriyah, scene of the deadliest violence so far.

Iraqi protestors shout slogans during a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment, on Oct 2, 2019 in the southern city of Basra. (Photo: AFP/Hussein Faleh)

Riot police have used water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds in an attempt to force protesters away from main squares or government buildings.

The worst violence has taken place at night and Iraqis have braced themselves for larger gatherings once darkness falls on Thursday.

The previous evening in Baghdad, marches from different neighbourhoods attempted to converge on Tahrir Square.

An Iraqi protester gestures in front of security forces during a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment, on Oct 2, 2019 in the southern city of Basra. (Photo: AFP/Hussein Faleh)

But with internet access virtually shut off, demonstrators have struggled to communicate with each other or post footage of the latest clashes.

Approximately 75 per cent of Iraq is "offline" after major network operators "intentionally restricted" access, according to cybersecurity monitor NetBlocks.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf and in Nasiriyah on Wednesday, security forces fired on protesters and announced curfews.

The protests appear to be largely spontaneous so far, with angry crowds carrying Iraqi flags and shunning any involvement by the country's main political players.

An Iraqi protester gestures the v-sign during a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment at Tayaran square in Baghdad on Oct 2, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

Many traditional figures have expressed their support for the movement, with Sadr urging "peaceful demonstrations."

He was behind the last round of major protests in Baghdad in 2016, when his supporters stormed the Green Zone, but his involvement appears much more limited this time.

"DE-ESCALATION NEEDED"

On Wednesday night, the top United Nations official in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, met with some protesters in Baghdad to call for "direct dialogue" between them and government officials.

"The ability to preserve the right to protest is a sign of political and democratic maturity. Moreover, the use of force only fuels the anger," she said in a statement.

"De-escalation is urgently needed."

An Iraqi protester gestures in front of security forces during a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment, on Oct 2, 2019 in the southern city of Basra. (Photo: AFP/Hussein Faleh)

The violence has drawn criticism from Iraqi President Barham Saleh, and parliament has demanded an investigation.

The protests follow months of simmering frustration over chronic power cuts, water shortages and state corruption.

But anger over youth unemployment, which stands at around 25 percent, or double the overall rate, according to the World Bank, appears to have set off this particular round of demonstrations.

An Iraqi protester chants slogans during a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment at Tayaran square in Baghdad on Oct 2, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

"We want jobs and better public services. We've been demanding them for years and the government has never responded," said Abdallah Walid, a 27-year-old protester.

Demonstrations over similar issues engulfed the southern city of Basra last summer and effectively ended Abdel Mahdi's predecessor Haider al-Abadi's chances of a second term.

The incumbent now faces a similar challenge just weeks before his government completes a year in power.

He called for the curfew after convening his national security council for an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

Abdel Mahdi has blamed the violence on "aggressors who... deliberately created casualties," a statement that infuriated protesters.


Source: AFP/ic

Advertisement

Also worth reading

Advertisement