Death Toll Rises as Fourth Day of Protests Rock Iraq
After four days of protests in Iraq, dozens of protesters are dead and many more wounded sparking calls for the Iraqi government to step down.
International media reports said on Friday that the death toll among Iraqis participating in a series of protests that have transpired across the country for the past few days has risen in the last 24 hours. The reports came after four people including two civilians and two security personnel were killed during protests in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Friday
The demonstrations, organized largely by young male Iraqi citizens, began on Tuesday in protest of corruption and high levels of poverty and unemployment across the oil-rich Arab country.
According to Reuters, the number of people killed over the past few days stands at 65, while the Associated Press estimated it at 53, citing medical and security sources. Hundreds of others have been reportedly injured during the protests that rocked different parts of Iraq, including the southern Diwaniya province.
The one-year-old new Iraqi government of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has reacted by imposing curfews throughout Iraqi regions, mainly in Baghdad. It has also imposed a blackout by cutting off internet access to prevent organizers of the protests from communicating with each other via social media outlets.
Fatalities and Injuries During Iraqi Protests
Al Jazeera reported that security sources in Baghdad said that “unidentified snipers” fired live ammunition on Friday, the fourth such day of protests, claiming the lives of two civilians and two other security personnel.
However, Iraqi security forces have also reportedly fired on protesters during the protests wounding and killing dozens of protesters.
The United Nations issued a statement on Friday urging for a dialogue between protesters and the Iraqi government and cautioned against the use of excessive force.
“We are worried by reports that security forces have used live ammunition and rubber bullets in some areas, and have also fired tear gas cannisters directly at protestors,” the U.N. statement read.
“We call on the Iraqi Government to allow people to freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The use of force should be exceptional, and assemblies should ordinarily be managed without resort to force.”
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ delegation in Iraq, Katharina Ritz, was also quoted as saying that the use of firearms should be a last resort and only when there is an imminent threat against life. She called on security forces to show restraint.
Response to the Iraqi Protests
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan reported that Iraqi parliament speaker Mohamad al-Halbousi had expressed support for the protesters and called on the government of Prime Minister Mahdi to listen to protesters’ demands, which he described as legitimate.
“He [al-Halbousi] has taken the side of the protesters, he’s saying the government has failed and needs to put in reforms right now,” Khan said.
“There seems to be a lot of anger towards the government, but it’s also coming not just from the protesters but from the parliament itself,” Khan added. “But this government is only a year old and these problems are a lot older than that.”
Al Jazeera also reported that Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sided with the protesters urging the Iraqi government to heed protesters’ demands. Sistani urged security forces and protesters not to use violence, and criticized Iraqi leaders for failing to eradicate corruption
In an overnight address on Friday, Reuters reported that Prime Minister Mahdi pledged reform but said there was no “magic solution” to Iraq’s problems. He insisted politicians were aware of the suffering of the masses saying, “We do not live in ivory towers – we walk among you in the streets of Baghdad.” Mahdi also pledged to lift the government-imposed curfew in Baghdad by 5 a.m. Saturday.
Mahdi is also facing calls for a snap election lead by the populist Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr who urged his fellow parliamentary legislators to boycott the government until an election was held.
“Respect the blood of Iraq through the resignation of the government and prepare for early elections overseen by international monitors,” a statement from his office said.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish leader and president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish-Iraqi region, Nechirvan Barzani, addressed both protesters and the government in a statement saying that the protests are legitimate and should not lead to chaos.
Amidst the current unrest in Iraq, nearby Arab countries including Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain issued travel warnings to their citizens advising them not to travel to Iraq for the time being. They also advised those residing in Iraq to leave the country immediately for security considerations.