IRAQ: Government Continues Crackdown as Death Toll Rises Over 300

Photo: Protesters in Iraq barricade a bridge leading to one of the country’s largest ports

By Miriam Cordova

Over the weekend, Iraqi security forces initiated a new crackdown on protesters which left at least nine dead and another 100 injured. The new wave of repression from the reactionary government leaves a total of at least 300 dead and another 15,000 injured since the protests began in October.

Protesters hold the Al-Jumhuriyah bridge in Baghdad

The main flashpoints for clashes between protesters and police have been several bridges that cross the Tigris River, connecting the heart of Baghdad with the Green Zone, a heavily fortified area which guards the US-backed government and both US and British Embassies. The new government offensive was launched to retake these bridges and other points where the masses have blocked major roadways. However, the protesters were able to successfully defend the central protest camp in Tahrir Square and the Al-Jumhuriyah Bridge.

Central protest camp in Tahrir Square in Baghdad

A general strike last week also caused a further paralysis of the economy, with schools, businesses, and many roads completely closed. The protesters also took to blocking roads surrounding the major port of Umm Qasr near the city of Basra, through which a large portion of Iraq’s imports flow.

Demonstrators are seen at Al Jumhuriya bridge during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad
Protesters block the Port of Umm Qasr near Basra

Security forces have caused numerous injuries and deaths through their use of live ammunition against protesters as well as tear gas and flash bang grenades. According to international observers, the tear gas used by the Iraqi state is ten times as potent as normal tear gas, and there have been multiple instances of the canisters being embedded in protesters’ skulls.

In an attempt to quash the ongoing rebellion of the Iraqi people, President Barham Salih gave a televised speech on October 31 promising the resignation of Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi and to hold new elections. Salih gave no timeframe for the resignation but made it clear that his replacement would have to be appointed by an agreement of the parties in the current government.

Likewise, the elections would not happen until a new election law is drafted and passed by the current legislature. The protest movement has consistently called not only for Mahdi’s resignation but also a complete overhaul of the US-backed sectarian system.

Despite being outgunned by the military, the protesters have defended Tahrir Square and have turned the city center into a base of operations for the ongoing unrest. The tunnel that runs beneath the square displays political graffiti, with slogans like “Iraq for [the] Iraqi people!”

The protesters are right to make claim to their own country, which has for years been a semicolony of US imperialism. What the demonstrations have illustrated is that the people can no longer stand this domination and that they will demand the ouster of anyone perceived to be a servant of imperialism.

Tahrir Square during one night of the protests.