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  • Demonstrators in Baghdad during a protest amid nationwide anti-government protests that killed 110 people.

    Demonstrators in Baghdad during a protest amid nationwide anti-government protests that killed 110 people. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 October 2019

Sunday night, the violence spread out to the volatile and poor district of Sadr City.

The death toll rose to 110 people in Iraq after a night of violence between Sunday and Monday when 15 more people were killed. The victims, on whom security forces carried out a harsh crackdown, were protesters demanding the removal of the United States backed government.

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Sunday night, the violence spread out to the volatile and poor district of Sadr City where a third of Baghdad’s eight million people live in narrow alleys, many with little access to electricity, water, and jobs. Unrest has been historically difficult to put down in Sadr City.

The clashes between protesters and security forces over the last week have ended two years of relative calm, unseen in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Many Iraqis, especially young people, say entrenched government corruption means they received no benefit from returning stability after years of foreign occupation and sectarian civil war.

Opposition to the government among parliamentary blocs who have begun boycotting legislative meetings is also brewing, adding pressure on Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi and his cabinet to step down.

Influential opponent and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has a mass popular following and controls a large chunk of parliament, demanded last Friday that the government resign and snap elections be held. At least one other major parliamentary grouping allied itself with Sadr against the government.

But powerful political parties that have dominated Iraqi politics since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion have not indicated their will to relinquish the institutions they control.

Past week, Reuters journalists have witnessed protesters being killed and wounded by snipers from the security forces firing into crowds from rooftops, though the interior ministry denies government forces have shot directly at protesters.

The internet has also been shut down across the country for days, creating a communications vacuum that allowed discontent to spread. It was restored for a few hours on Monday evening, and people uploaded recent protest footage to social media before it went down again.

“The crackdown plus the internet blackout are angering people and it won’t calm the situation,” Jassim al-Hilfi, a lawmaker from the bloc of Moqtada al-Sadr, who is boycotting parliament, told Reuters.

“People will not be silenced, and politicians are not capable of meeting their demands.”

The unrest is the deadliest Iraq has seen since the declared defeat of Islamic State Group in 2017 and has shaken Mahdi's year-old government. Iraqis fear the violence will continue to escalate.

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