Chants of “Victory to Iraq!” fill the streets of major cities throughout the country as the result of two months of protests over the oil-rich government’s failure to provide social services and amenities. The protests began in the capital city of Baghdad and have resulted in over 400 deaths, 17,000 injuries and the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Abdul-Mahdi.
The first wave of protests began following Abdul-Mahdi’s unexpected demotion of counter-terrorism commander Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, a popular figure throughout Iraq. The unexplained demotion ignited social media outrage, leading to the organization of an Oct. 1 protest over general dissatisfaction with the government. The resulting first wave of protests was centered around Tahrir Square but fanned throughout the capital. Violence erupted, however, when protesters attempted to reach an area holding key government buildings and offices, called the Green Zone. As they attempted to cross the access-bridge, security forces opened fire. The escalation of violence further incited anger among the movement and the first wave of protests continued until Oct. 9, ending with vague promises from the government and 149 civilian lives taken, many killed by security forces.
Following promises for government member and policy changes, the protests died down for approximately two weeks. But with Abdul-Mahdi’s refusal to call an early election, they reignited on Oct. 25. Beginning again in Baghdad, the protests spread throughout central and southern Iraq in Shia-dominated areas, where they have been met with violence by Iraqi security forces.
College students and those under 30 have formed the majority of the protesters, boycotting classes and taking to the streets in protest from Southern Safwan to Tahrir Square, which remains the center of the protests. Schools and universities across the South have participated in the strike as well, closing their doors in support of the boycott. The Iraqi Teacher Syndicate, in a move of support, announced a strike from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7. In late November, university students in Mosul, the first Sunni-majority city to participate in the protests, joined when students staged a black-dressed mourning march.
The anger at the government is wide-spread and diverse, focused on high unemployment rates, the oil-rich government’s failure to provide certain amenities, Iranian influence and corruption. Protest hot-spots have sprung up in the southern cities of Najaf, where 45 protesters were killed after torching an Iranian Consulate, and Nasiriyah, where 25 protestors were reportedly killed in a single incident. Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director said: “This brutal onslaught is just the latest in a long series of deadly events where Iraqi security forces meted out appalling violence against largely peaceful protesters.”
The protesters’ voices were acknowledged by religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia cleric in Iraq. “Parliament, from which the current government emerged, must reconsider its choices and do what’s in the interest of Iraq,” his representative said in a televised sermon Friday, Nov. 29. Later that day Abdul-Mahdi promised to resign “In response to this call.” Parliament gathered and accepted the resignation on Dec. 1, though Abdul-Mahdi will remain until a successor is chosen.