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Will Killing of Two Protesters Spur Another Round of Massive Anti-government Protests in Iraq

Anti-government protests have resumed intermittently in capital Baghdad and few other Iraqi cities due to regular power outages afflicting ordinary citizens during this time of intense summer.
Protests in Iraq

Two protesters were killed by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad on July 27, Monday, in the latest round of anti-government protests in the country. Iraqi medical sources said that one protester was hit in the head and the other in the neck with tear gas canisters, resulting in their deaths. 26 other protesters reportedly suffered injuries during violent clashes with the security forces. 

Several security force personnel also suffered minor injuries. The current protests are being organised specifically against constant power outages in the country, which cause major inconvenience amid brutal summer heatwaves.

The protests, which resumed on Sunday, have seen massive participation despite temperatures reaching over 50 degree Celsius in most places. As per multiple media reports, hundreds of people took part in protest rallies and demonstrations in capital Baghdad and several other Iraqi cities. In Baghdad, demonstrations were staged in Tahrir (freedom) square – the epicenter of the popular anti-government movement that started in October last year against chronic problems faced by the country. These protests had demanded systemic change to address issues ranging from government corruption, poverty, lack of employment and adequate public services.

In the latest round of protests, protesters marched from Tahrir to Tayaran square, carrying banners and chanting slogans against the government, demanding that it resolve the issue of power outages. 

Security forces tried to suppress the protests using force and even used live ammunition at places, according to several eyewitnesses. This was confirmed by Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s semi-official High Commission of Human Rights. There was also extensive use of military grade tear gas canisters and smoke grenades in order to subdue and disperse the protesters. In response, protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at the security forces.

Close to 600 protesters have been killed in the anti-government protests in Iraq since last year. A staggering 300,000 protesters have suffered injuries, ranging from the very serious to minor, in brutal crackdowns by the security forces. The protests subsided for a while due to the ongoing pandemic, but public anger has been rising again in recent months. 

The deaths on Monday were the first registered under the rule of new Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, a former Iraqi intelligence chief. Al-Kadhimi took charge after his predecessor Adel Abdel Mahdi was forced to resign due to massive protests which threatened to engulf the whole country. Mahdi’s government was accused of gross maladministration and mismanagement of the economy which led to rapidly deteriorating social and economic conditions. Protesters were also critical of widespread perceived corruption among the political and business elites, who were held responsible for the distress in the country. His government also faced vehement opposition for the harsh treatment meted out to protesters. No accountability has been established so far despite the deaths of hundreds of protesters at the hands of the security forces.

Al-Kadhimi, on his part, has ordered an investigation into the deaths of the two protesters. A statement released by the prime minister’s office acknowledged that “unfortunate events” had taken place at the protest square, but insisted that security forces had been instructed not to use violence unless absolutely necessary. Al-Kadhimi himself in a televised speech late on Monday said that the protests “are a legitimate right and the security forces do not have the permission to fire even one bullet in the direction of the protesters.”

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