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Scores of demonstrators dead as major protests resume in Iraq

Militias have opened fire on groups of protesters as they attempt to break into local offices
Demonstrators using drums during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad (Reuters)
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Baghdad

At least 41 demonstrators were killed in Iraq, a watchdog and security sources said, as mass anti-government protests resumed across the country.

Eleven protesters died late on Friday while setting fire to the headquarters of the Badr organisation, a powerful armed faction in the southern Iraqi city of Diwaniyah, a security source told AFP news agency. 

The cause of their deaths was not immediately clear.

At least eight other protesters were killed in Baghdad on Friday, the semi-governmental Iraqi Human Rights Commission said, according to AFP.

Police and hospital sources said five others were killed in the southern city of Nasiriyah when the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) militia opened fire on a group of protesters attempting to break into the Iran-backed group's local offices.

More than 40 people were also wounded in the incident in Dhi Qar province, while five other protesters were fatally shot while trying to storm AAH offices in the city of Amarah in Maysan governorate.

At least 2,000 protesters were wounded across the country on Friday, the Iraqi rights comission said.

Anti-government protests began in early October across Iraq, with demonstrators demanding jobs and an end to government corruption.

The deadly incidents on Friday came as the protests resumed after a pause for the Arbaeen religious holiday.

A video circulating on social media on Friday also appeared to show demonstrators setting fire to a local government building in Nasiriyah.

'With spirit and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for Iraq'

- Protesters

The Iraqi Human Rights Commission said two demonstrators appeared to have died from wounds sustained when they were hit by tear gas canisters.

"Two demonstrators died, with preliminary information indicating they were hit in the head or face by tear gas canisters," said Ali Bayati, a member of the commission.

Protests in the capital began in the early morning on Friday when about 1,000 people, some of whom had camped overnight in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, marched towards the city's heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

Medical sources told Reuters that more than 350 people were wounded in Baghdad as Iraqi security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to repel the crowds marching towards the area.

By the afternoon, the protest had swelled to engulf all of Tahrir Square and much of the surrounding area. Iraqi security forces continued to use tear gas and stun grenades to attempt to disperse the demonstrators.

Other protesters across the country's south set fire to more than a dozen political party headquarters and offices of parliamentarians, as two protesters died of burns sustained in one of those incidents. 

Protesters in the city of Samawa in southern Muthanna province torched the regional headquarters of the Hikma political party and the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq militia.

A video released on social media also appeared to show protesters breaking through barbed wire and storming the Muthanna Governorate building.

Other protests took place in Najaf and Wasit, also in southern Iraq, while police sources told Reuters that at least 18 people were wounded in the southern city of Amara when protesters tried to break into the militia's local offices there.

'The people want the fall of the regime'

Salam Kashkal, one of the protesters in Baghdad, had camped out overnight at Tahrir Square.

As they dodged tear gas, he and other demonstrators chanted "the people want the fall of the regime" and other slogans reminiscent of the 2011 Arab Spring protests.

Kashkal said protesting was an obligation because he, like others, had no way to make a living.

"I have nothing. I swear to God, I only have this," he told MEE, waiving 2,500 Iraqi dinars (about $2 USD) in the air. "Everyone is jobless."

Iraqi protesters carry a comrade who fainted due to tear gas used by security forces to disperse the crowds in central Baghdad during anti-government demonstrations in the Iraqi capital
Iraqi protesters carry a comrade who fainted from tear gas used by security forces to disperse the crowds in central Baghdad during anti-government demonstrations on 25 October (AFP)

Many of the protesters waved Iraqi flags, as did some of the security forces surrounding them, in an apparent show of solidarity.

The spirit was patriotic, as people chanted "with spirit and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for Iraq".

In Tahrir Square, police patted down people several blocks away before allowing them into the protest area. Most of the demonstrators were men, but some women showed up as well.

'This government is not a government. No salaries, no state, no nothing'

- Suad Izz al-Din, protester

Suad Izz al-Din was one of them.

"This government is not a government," she told MEE, holding an Iraqi flag. "No salaries, no state, no nothing."

One in five people lives in poverty in Iraq and youth unemployment sits at around 25 percent, according to the World Bank.

The rates are staggering for OPEC's second-biggest oil producer, which Transparency International ranks as the 12th most corrupt state in the world.

Previous demonstrations had seen the government restricting internet access, which prevented information on the protest from filtering out.

As of Friday afternoon, however, a blackout had not been imposed in the capital.

One Baghdad-based online activist, who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity, said his group - which goes by the name of #IraqiRevolution on Twitter - was calling for a root-and-branch transformation of the Iraqi political system.

"Not just our group - the main demand for all of the demonstrators is to change the whole government and ban all the political parties involved in the government since 2003," he said.

"They are all corrupted, loyal to other countries, Iran, Saudi Arabia, USA."

'Chaos'

Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shia religious authority in Iraq, urged protesters during his Friday sermon to use "restraint" and prevent the demonstrations from descending into "chaos".

Diyari Salih, a specialist in political geography at Al-Mustnasiriya University in Baghdad, said he did not believe that Friday would see a repeat of the violence seen at previous demonstrations.

Still, he said there was a potential for clashes between armed Sadr supporters and members of the largely Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias.


"This is the worst-case scenario for how things might negatively develop - thus, Iraqi political parties must reach a quick settlement on this crisis," he said.

It remains unclear whether the protests will usher in major changes, but the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has promised to usher in reforms.

On Friday, Kashkal, the protester in Baghdad, said he was somewhat hopeful that the country would change.

"God willing," he said, about the prospect of reform. "I need rights."

- Additional reporting by AFP and Reuters