BAGHDAD: At least two people were killed and 200 injured on Tuesday as security forces used tear gas, water cannons and live fire against Iraqis protesting against unemployment and corruption.
The main demonstration was in central Baghdad, with others in seven Shiite-dominated southern provinces. Police in the capital fired in the air as about 3,000 protesters tried to cross a bridge leading into the fortified Green Zone, chanting “People want to overthrow the regime.”
Security forces blocked roads and used stun grenades and water cannons to push back the crowd, but protesters refused to leave.
They set fire to the building used by an Iraqi army detachment, clashed with security forces and threw missiles at riot police and troops.
— Arab News (@arabnews) October 1, 2019
“Our youth is lost. There is no work, no services, no clear future, so why we should keep silent?” one protester, Mohammed, told Arab News.
“All the governments and political forces that came after 2003 stole our future, and now they are shooting at us just because we want to protest.” There were also protests in the southern oil hub of Basra, where 15 people were arrested; friction in Dhi Qar province, where demonstrators tried to storm the provincial council; and unrest in Diwaniya, Najaf, Karbala, Babil and Maysan.
Calls for protests in Baghdad have intensified since last week, when Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi fired the commander of the military counterterrorism squad, Lt. Gen. Abdulwahab Al-Saadi.
Many Iraqis believe the decision was aimed at removing the leaders of the Iraqi army and official military institutions that led the fight against Daesh.
Observers and analysts said the dissatisfaction of most Iraqis was clear, but the publication of provocative videos suggesting a military coup had created tension between police and demonstrators.
When security forces opened fire it was “the fastest reaction against demonstrators since 2003,” analyst Abdulwahid Tuama told Arab News.
“This could have been avoided, but Abdul Mahdi appears to be provocative.”
“This is not a government, it is a bunch of parties and militias who destroyed Iraq,” said one protestor who declined to give his name out of fear of reprisal.
Shi’ite Muslim militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces play a large role in Iraqi politics and have representation in parliament and government.
Prime Minister Mahdi, who chaired the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, issued a statement promising jobs for graduates. He instructed the oil ministry and other government bodies to start including a 50 percent quota for local workers in subsequent contracts with foreign companies.
Iraq saw massive protests last year which first erupted in the south, heartland of the Shi’ite majority. Clashes took place between security forces and protesters incensed by collapsing infrastructure, frequent power cuts, and widespread corruption.
Iraq has suffered for decades under the rule of Saddam Hussein and UN sanctions, the 2003 US.-led invasion and civil war it unleashed, and the battle against Islamic State, which was declared won in 2017. Graft is widespread and basic services like power and water are lacking.