Security officials in Iraq shot and killed 19 civilians in Baghdad this Saturday during the fifth consecutive day of anti-government protests.
Nearly 100 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured since Tuesday, when protestors initiated rallies to demand jobs, better access to water and electricity, and an end to government corruption.
Demonstrations are led mainly by young men, who face an unemployment rate of nearly 25%.
Authorities responded to the protests by blocking the Internet Wednesday and imposing a curfew Thursday. Security forces, backed by the army, have used tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, and live rounds to disperse the protestors.
Friday was the deadliest day so far, with 22 people killed. Security forces reported 8 of their members killed and over 1,000 wounded since Tuesday.
The past seven days represent the most violence Iraq has seen since the defeat of ISIS In 2017, though the county has struggled with the effects of multiple unfinished wars since the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“It has been 16 years of corruption and injustice,” says Abbas Najm, an unemployed engineer who participated in Saturday’s protest. “We are not afraid of bullets or the death of martyrs. We will keep going and we won’t back down.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi described protestors’ demands as “legitimate,” but defended police action as a “bitter medicine” necessary to quell the violence. His government announced a series of reforms this week, but the vague promises to address poverty and unemployment are unlikely to satisfy protestors.
“There seems to be a lot of anger towards the government, but it’s also coming not just from the protests but from the parliament itself,” explains Al Jazeera reporter Imran Khan, who spoke with protestors in Iraq. “But this government is only a year old and these problems are a lot older than that.”
Legislators were unable to hold an emergency session of parliament scheduled for Saturday when a number of key lawmakers failed to appear.
“Three major blocs decided they were going to boycott that session because they said the government didn’t have an agenda it could implement so therefore it was not worth going to the meeting,” said Khan.
Populist nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has urged lawmakers to suspend their parliamentary membership and boycott sessions. On Friday, he called for snap elections and for Abdul Mahdi’s resignation.
Several neighboring countries have urged residents not to travel to Iraq.
Author’s Note: The United States attempted to set up a democratic government in Iraq, but Democracy can’t be given, it must be earned. These protests may push Iraq along that path, but unfortunately, chaos in the Middle East generally ends with the extremists gaining more power.