When a small group of activists assembled in Baghdad on October 1 to protest governmental corruption, Iraqi security forces met them with tear gas, water cannon, and bullets, according to Foreign Policy, and forced the group to disperse.
So those activists put a call out on social media, asking fellow like-minded Iraqis to join them.
Later that same day, thousands of young adults showed up to protest in droves. And they continued to show up in the coming days, in order to make their voices heard about the inequalities they faced in their everyday lives. Within the week, Iraqi forces and snipers had begun shooting protesters point-blank, and the government cut access to the internet, a tactic frequently used to slow protests. Since then, more than 100 people have been killed, and thousands have been injured since protests started, Iraqi security officials reported, according to NPR.
“We’ve had enough — enough!” one protester in Baghdad shouted, according to the Washington Post. “They stole our futures, and now they’re killing us.”
The mass demonstrations in Baghdad and parts of southern Iraq were led by primarily 20-something Iraqis tired of the lack of opportunity in their country and the corruption of the government. The public uprising shocked government officials, Al Jazeera reporter Imran Khan told NPR.
“The government were completely surprised by this, and they sent in the Iraqi army and the police with very heavy-handed tactics,” Khan said. “They used live fire. They used tear gas. They used rubber-coated steel bullets. Now, there were a number of deaths that day, and then the protests spread to other parts of the country.”
These calls are coming from young people who “barely remember the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq,” according to Khan. “What they do remember is the last 10 years and the opportunities that have not been given to them,” he told NPR.
The anti-government rallies began almost a year after Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi took office. He promised reform after being elected to replace Haider al-Abadi, but protestors said that months later, they still lacked basic services like water and electricity and blamed government corruption for the scarcity. They want Iran to stop meddling in Iraqi politics and they’re calling for government officials to step down.
On Saturday (October 5), Abdul-Mahdi said he wanted to meet with the protesters — without armed forces. “I am ready to go wherever our brotherly protesters are and meet them or send them envoys to other locations without any armed forces,” Abdul-Mahdi told his Cabinet in televised remarks, according to PBS Newshour. “I will go and meet them without weapons and sit with them for hours to listen to their demands.”
That same day, Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi met with protesters and told them that their “voice was being heard,” according to the Washington Post. He said the government would roll out a series of measures to curb corruption and help the economy, like providing low-income housing, unemployment benefits, and vocational training, Al Jazeera reported. He said he plans to pay out unemployment assistance and provide government-backed housing for low-income residents, according to NPR.
But protesters weren’t satisfied, and they took to the streets the following day (October 6). They were met, once again, with Iraqi security forces who used tear gas and live ammunition, according to the Post.
On October 8, Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the attacks on protesters and called for parliament to enact reforms that are in line with protester demands, according to Al Jazeera. “The right to protest and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.
Iraqi authorities also reopened Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone — an area in the center of the Iraqi capital that serves as the headquarters for many of Iraq’s regimes — after “successful negotiations” between the prime minister’s office and protesters, according to Anadolu Agency, a state-run news agency in Ankara, Turkey. The Iraqi News Agency also reported that Internet service was partially returned, and Al Jazeera reported that the nation’s parliament held its first session since the protests started.
As of publication, protests are still raging on, according to Steven Nabil, a correspondent for Alhurra News. Global rights group Amnesty International said they “continue to closely monitor the situation in Iraq.”
“Our message to Iraqis: We are watching, we can hear you,” the organization said.