2019 Iraqi protests
This article needs to be updated.December 2019)(
The 2019 Iraqi protests, also named the Tishreen Revolution and 2019 Iraqi Intifada, are an ongoing series of protests that consisted of demonstrations, marches, sit-ins and civil disobedience. They started on 1 October 2019, a date which was set by civil activists on social media, spreading over the central and southern provinces of Iraq, to protest 16 years of corruption, unemployment and inefficient public services, before they escalated into calls to overthrow the administration and to stop Iranian intervention in Iraq. The Iraqi government has been accused of using bullets, snipers, hot water and tear gas against protesters. The protests stopped on 8 October and resumed on 24 October. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced on 29 November that he would resign. According to the BBC, they call for the end of the political system which has existed since the US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein and has been marked by sectarian divides. The protests are the largest incident of civil unrest since the fall Saddam Hussein.
- 1 Background
- 2 Prelude
- 3 Causes, goals, methods
- 4 Timeline
- 5 See also
- 6 References
In 2011, protests broke out in various provinces within Iraq demanding the end of corruption, nepotism, and unemployment, while also calling for increased wages and improved public services such as electricity, transportation, health care, education and municipal services. Protestors faced government suppression, police brutality and arrests. These reform demands in the six Sunni-dominant provinces escalated during the 2012–13 Iraqi protests after Nouri Al-Maliki's acts of persecution against Sunni political figures. This, in turn, led to protests calling for the overthrow of the sectarian government and redrafting the constitution, as well as a march into Baghdad to occupy the Green Zone. These protests were faced with even more government suppression, leading to clashes between security forces and local tribesmen who had alleged support from Ba'ath Party loyalists. After reports of the Sunni factions, which were part of the Iraqi insurgency against the American occupation, unifying their powers and taking control over Al Anbar Governorate, the government launched the 2013 Anbar campaign. By July 2014, these factions which merged with ISIL had occupied most of Al-Anbar, Ninawa, Salah ad-Din, Kirkuk and Diyala which started the Iraqi Civil War. The U.S. Secretary of State pledged "intense" support to the Iraqi government while imploring the Government to rise above "sectarian motivations" but according to senior officials in the Department of Defense the U.S. was refraining from giving weapons to the Iraqi military "because of lack of confidence in Iraqi troops", while veteran U.S. journalists familiar with the situation claimed that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "is not the answer and should step down".
Fueled by the lack of progress of Haider al-Abadi's government and state corruption, leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, called for a sit-in within the Green Zone in Baghdad to force the government to find serious solutions for corruption. On 30 April 2016, thousands of Al-Sadr's followers breached the barricades of the Green Zone and stormed into governmental buildings, including the Iraqi parliament, chasing representatives out of the Green Zone before retreating the day after by the call of Al-Sadr. Another demonstration broke out in Basra and nearby cities in July 2018 due to deteriorating public utilities, water contamination and lack of electricity and continued for a few months. Protestors burned down a number of government buildings and parties' headquarters, blocked numerous main streets, tore and burned pictures of Khomeini and Khamenei and even occupied the Al-Najaf and Basra International Airport. They were faced with suppression from security forces and Popular Mobilization Forces, including Kata'ib Hezbollah, Badr Organization and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, causing the death of at least 16 protestors.
Remembering the rise of ISIS during the protests in 2012, these ones avoided sectarian rhetoric. Although a recent poll showed only six percent of Iraqis viewed the United States more favorably than Iran, Americans did not seem to be the focus of the anger.
Holders of higher degrees demonstrations
On 25 September 2019, a group of holders of higher degrees organized a protest in front of the Prime Minister's office in Baghdad, demanding their employment. The protest was faced with major suppression from security forces as armoured vehicles separated the demonstrators using hot water and police forces conducted random arrests among them which led to cases of fainting and injuries among the demonstrators. This incident was faced with country-wide anger because of the forceful methods that were used by the government towards intellectual demonstrators, along with the violence that was used against female protestors. Reactions included the Ministry of Interior forming a committee to investigate the incident and demonstrators organizing solidarity protests in many provinces to condemn these methods. The holders of higher degrees resumed their protests for three days after the incident, spreading over many southern provinces.
Dismissal of Abdel-Wahab Al-Saedi
On 27 September 2019, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi issued a decision to transfer the commander of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force, Lieutenant General Abdel-Wahab Al-Saedi, from the ICTF to the Ministry of Defence, a decision that was viewed by many and by Al-Saedi himself as a demotion and an act of disrespect after being one of the major leaders of the liberation of Mosul from ISIL's occupation. Al-Saedi said the decision is an insult to his military rank and that he would rather go to jail than execute this decision. This decision caused political figures, including former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi and many representatives, to criticize Abdul-Mahdi and call for him to back down from his decisions. After the decision was made, social media was flooded with Al-Saedi's photos and achievements, calling for Abdul-Mahdi to back down from this injustice and accusing Iran of ordering the Iraqi government to replace every "national hero" in the army with Iranian loyalists. In response to this backlash, Abdul-Mahdi said he stands by his decision and that it is a normal routine decision with no political motivations. Furthermore, after calls for the unveiling of a statue of Al-Saedi in Mosul that was made to immortalize the commander's efforts in the city's liberation, security forces surrounded the statue, prohibiting its unveiling, before it was finally removed by them. On 30 September 2019, Al-Saedi announced that he executed Abdul-Mahdi's orders and joined the ministry of defence as "a loyal soldier to serve my country and my beloved people."
Causes, goals, methods
Starting on 25 October 2019, mass protests took place in many cities in Iraq, including Kerbala, against corruption and a national government that protestors saw as unaccountable for its actions. After the U.S. occupation (2003–11), oligarchs and warlords were perceived to have taken control over Iraq. While the country produces more oil than the United Arab Emirates, the oil revenues were seen by protestors as failing to be spent on maintenance of hospitals and roads. A widely used slogan in this phase of the protests was: "We want a home land"—reflecting a longing both for a sense of unity and for a self-determined life in dignity.
While at daytime protesters from all strata of Iraqi society peacefully take to the streets and squares of cities like Kerbala, later at night, youths from the suburbs seek violent confrontations, using molotov cocktails and burning car-tyres, which is answered by the state security forces with tear gas, rubber bullets, deadly snipers and even patrol vehicles lethally ramming into crowds.
Assassination and intimidation campaign
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Reuters reported that during the October protests, Iran-backed militia snipers were on Baghdad rooftops, according to two Iraqi security officials.
A day after the October protests started, activists Hussein Adel al-Madani, 25 years old, and his wife Sara Talib, 24 years old, who had spent time in exile in Turkey, changed address and ceased participating in protests, were assassinated in Basra by unidentified gunmen. Friends of the victims and security services told Thomson Reuters that the assassination had been ordered by an Iran-backed militia. Interviews by Thomson Reuters with officials and activists indicated a "pattern of mass arrests, intimidation and torture, and in some cases targeted killings of Iraqi protesters", with six activists "shot dead in or near their homes" over the year from November 2018 to October 2019, that was attributed by the interviewees to an Iran-backed militia. The activists had criticised the militias and been threatened for their activism. In November, gunmen in unmarked cars killed activist Adnan Rustum in Baghdad and another activist in Amara.
An Iranian official contacted by Thomson Reuters said the claims of assassinations and threats by Iran-backed militias were "baseless".
Two Iraqi security officials contacted by Thomson Reuters stated the beating and electrocution of detained protestors, and the forcing of detained protestors to promise media silence were common. Iraqi government security spokesperson Abdul Karim Khalaf said that any evidence of torture should be investigated but no claims had been confirmed. The human rights committee of the Iraqi parliament called for an official investigation into the "'assassinations and kidnappings' of activists and bloggers."
Initial protests: 1–8 October
1 October: Protests erupted in Baghdad in Liberation Square over high unemployment, poor basic services, and state corruption. These protests spread to the southern provinces. The authorities imposed an internet blackout and shut down 75% of the country's internet access. Protesters demanded the resignation of Adil Abdul-Mahdi and prepare for early elections. The protesters also began demonstrating against Iranian influence, and against the leader of Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani. The Iraqi prime minister declared a curfew until further notice.
Protests resume: 24–30 October
24 October: Thousands of protesters began to congregate at Liberation Square in Baghdad, protesting against the government and against the Iranian influence. Nearly 50 protesters were killed and injured after attempting to enter the Green Zone.
25 October: Protesting in Maysan Governorate began to turn into riots between Peace Companies led by Muqtada al-Sadr on one side and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and Badr Organization on another. Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq member Wisam Alyawi and his brother, both PMU commanders for the Maysan Governorate, were lynched by angry protesters who dragged them out of an ambulance and beat them to death. Qais Khazali, chief of all Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, announced that nine PMU members had been killed in the recent protests, blamed Israel for their deaths, and stated he would take revenge "four times over." Protesters burned down and destroyed many offices of political parties in the city of Samawah. Protesters in Karbala chanted against Iran, tearing up Ali Khamenei's pictures. They also attacked the Governorate Council building. They also burnt the Iranian consulate. In Al-Qādisiyyah Governorate, protesters burned down the Governorate Council building. Administrative authorities declared a curfew in the province. In the city of Al Kūt, protesters attacked many of the political parties' offices and also attacked the house of former Minister of Interior, Qasim al-Araji.
28 October: A top security authority for Baghdad declared an open-ended curfew on the capital, four days after the renewed protests against government killed more than 70 protesters. In Karbala, 14-30 people were killed in protests. Government officials denied any deaths occurred.
Second week: 31 October – 6 November
4 November: An internet blockage observatory, NetBlocks highlighted that the internet access in Baghdad and five other regions in Iraq were cut off on 4 November, in wake of the continued rage in the country. Iraqi authorities had taken a similar move in October, where social media and messaging remained highly restricted in several parts of the country.
Third week: 7–13 November
8 November: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shia cleric, called on the government to meet the demands of the protesters, and urged the security forces to avoid the use of violence.
10 November: The Iraqi Parliamentary Human Rights Committee reported that at least 319 people had been killed during the protests. According to the Independent High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq, an additional 15,000 were injured.
13 November: The Iraqi Parliament held a special session to discuss the crisis. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq addressed the session to present her plan to resolve the crisis, which involves election reform and anti-corruption measures.
Fourth week: 14–21 November
14 November: Four people were killed and 62 injured in Baghdad in clashes between security forces and protesters.
16 November: At least four protesters were killed and nearly 20 were injured as a car bomb attack took place at the Tahrir Square in Baghdad. No group claimed responsibility of the first explosion in the ongoing anti-government protests.
19 November: Protesters blocked the entrance to the country's second largest commercial port, Khor al-Zubair port, halting the trade activity for oil and other tankers. Prior to that, the access to Umm Qasr Port was also cut off.
21 November: Al-Jazeera reported that at least seven protesters were killed and 78 wounded by security forces in Baghdad.
Fifth week: 22–29 November
24 November: At least two protesters were shot dead in the southern city of Nasiriyah, as they shut down schools and blocked the Zaitoun and the Nasr bridges into the city centre. Nearly 47 people were also wounded during the clashes with security forces.
27 November: Protestors attacked the Iranian consulate in Najaf for the second time, this time burning it down. Security forces fired tear gas into the crowd and injured some of them but had to escape when hundreds protesters poured into the consulate and set it on fire.
Sixth week 30 November – 5 December 2019
Seventh week 6–13 December 2019
12 December: A 17-year old man, accused of having shot at protestors, killing four, was dragged along the ground and kicked by a crowd after security forces "withdrew". The man's body, nude apart from underpants, was hung from a traffic light. It was later removed and taken to a forensic morgue.
Muqtada al-Sadr's group stated that it would withdraw its "blue helmets" support for the protests unless the "terrorists responsible" for the lynching were identified. A protestors' group described the lynching as "a Machiavellian plan aimed at tarnishing the reputation fo the peaceful protesters" and that the protestors "had nothing to do with" the lynching event.
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