Protesters return to Iraqi streets despite coronavirus pandemic
Protests have broken out in Iraq over the past two days, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
A curfew is in place in the country to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has infected nearly 9,000 Iraqis and killed 271, but protesters in the cities of Baghdad, Najaf, and Nasiriyah and the provinces of Muthanna and Wasit have defied it to take to the streets.
The protesters accuse Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, of stalling reforms and failing to meet their demands. They say that his government has not acted against security officers and militiamen who were behind the killing of participants in previous protests, nor has it set a date for early elections, or provided protection to protesters from militias acting outside state authority.
More than 700 protesters were killed and approximately 27,000 injured during protests which broke out in October 2019, sparked by rampant corruption, unemployment, poor public services, and high rates of poverty. The protests forced the government of former Prime Minister Adel AbdelMahdi to resign and Kadhimi took over in April after a long period of political deadlock.
After taking office, Kadhimi vowed to “hold to account all those who shed Iraqi blood".
However, a protester in Nasiriyah told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that “The government’s disregard for the protesters’ demands is now clear and there is no need to give them any new chances. Protesters have no choice but to take to the squares of cities again”
Another protester, Sahir Al-Rihani said that, “Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi promised protesters more than once that their lives matter, but the militias are still targeting and chasing them, besieging Al-Habubi Square [in Nasiriya]”.
He added that essential services such as electricity and water were not being provided regularly, meaning that Iraqis would suffer during the hot summer months, as they had done in previous years.
Karar Al-Husseini, one of the protest organizers in Najaf, told The New Arab’s Arabic service that the government had not made any progress bringing suspects responsible for the killing of protesters to justice, saying that the government is “either unable to do anything or is stalling the protest movement.”
“The government and the prime minister know very well who the militias who assaulted, kidnapped, and killed protesters are. Not revealing their names and not exposing and punishing them means that it is complicit with them.”
Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi on Thursday repeated his vow to bring killers of protesters to justice after meeting families of protesters, saying that Iraq was “at a difficult stage” and that “a precise and professional investigation was needed” to bring about justice.
He added that an independent fact-finding commission had been formed to look into the deaths of the protesters.