The latest wave of unrest, which has reportedly left over 100 people dead and an estimated 6,000 more injured in the last six days. The United Nations has pleaded for an end to the, “senseless loss of life” on the streets. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, called for those responsible for deaths to be held accountable, saying:
“Five days of reported deaths and injuries: this must stop,”
Why are they protesting?
Iraqis started protesting in 2015, calling for the end to the political system that has failed them since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The system known as Muhassasa makes government appointments based on ethnic or sectarian quotas rather than on merit. Iraqis say that this system has led to corruption and the abuse of funds by Shia, Kurdish, Sunni and other leaders.
The protests have so far have not been well-organised but are also a response to growing economic incertitude in the country. Young people in Iraq feel powerless at the lack of employment opportunities and youth unemployment levels have remained high since the fall of Saddam in 2003;
over 60 per cent of Iraq’s population is under 25 and a quarter of those of working age are unemployed.
Sources say that pro-Iranian militia have taken a sector of Baghdad and are “responsible for its security.” An unnamed eyewitness told the Independent that snipers belonging to pro-Iranian groups had fired live rounds at protesters, often aiming for the head or heart. Pro-Iranian factions of the Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Units, an 85,000-strong body made up of a coalition of about 30 groups, including powerful units, such as Ketaeb Hezbollah, are said to be involved on the ground.
Analysts suggest that the protests will not lead to any immediate reform, and so far, the response from the authorities has been to push on protestors by using excessive force and repressing free speech.
Authorities have responded to protests by clamping down on press freedom, including the detention of journalists, confiscation of equipment and attacking of reporters with batons, according to press freedom NGO CPJ. On 2 October, several major network operators blocked Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and other social media and messaging apps, and subsequently restricted internet access across much of Iraq. According to reports from Netblocks and IODA, access remains restricted.
A statement was issued by the Iraqi government following Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s phone call with Mike Pompeo on 6 October. The Prime Minister was said to have discussed the protests that have gripped his country this past week with the US Secretary of State.
A Reuters report of 7 October revealed that his statement claimed that the government will put forward a package of wide-ranging reforms and will continue to provide more to meet the demands of the protesters.
“The Prime Minister reviewed developments in the security situation and the return to normal life after the curfew was lifted, and confirmed that security forces had resumed control and stability had been restored,”
He addressed the demands of protestors in a 17-point plan, that included promises to create big market complexes, increase benefits for the unemployed and provide subsidies for unemployed young people, who want to retrain or start their own business.