With Nasiriyah deadline set to expire, protesters ready escalate in Baghdad, southern provinces

Government failure to implement reforms
Iraqi demonstrators participate in anti-government protests in Baghdad on December 27, 2019 (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)

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SULAIMANI — Protests are expected to escalate in Baghdad and cities across Iraq’s southern provinces on Monday (January 20), with demonstrators saying they will cut roads in an effort to pressure the government to enact reforms to the country’s governance system.

The new round of protests coincides with the expiration of a seven-day deadline set by protesters in Nasiriyah last week. They had warned that they would start blocking key roads if the government did not move urgently to implement promised changes.

In Baghdad on Sunday evening, the security forces had used tear gas in an attempt to break up a sit-in on the Muhammed al-Qasim highway. According to a security source, as estimated ten people were injured.

In Nasiriyah overnight, hundreds of protesters flocked to al-Haboubi Square in the city center and cut of major roads around the city.

More than 500 people have been killed since anti-government unrest broke out on October 1, with at least 17,000 wounded. Protesters have called for root-and-branch changes to Iraq’ governance system, which they see as fundamentally corrupt.

The provincial governments in Dhi Qar, Babil, and Diwaniyah have all suspended work on Monday in expectation of the protests.

The security forces have responded by cracking down on the demonstrations, using live bullets and military grade tear gas cannisters to try to break up the crowds. Activists and journalists have also been singled out for abductions and targeted killings, often by third-party armed groups and militias.

Shia cleric and political leader Moqtada al-Sadr said in a statement on Sunday that Iraqi political leaders should not delay the appointment of a new prime minister and warned of the consequences if the decision was put off.

“The new candidate should create a new government. Stop your conflicts for personal gain. Your country is in danger,” he said.

Sadr did, however, signal support for the protesters’ escalation.

“I respect the decision the protesters to enlarge and widen the protests and hope that they stay within the regulations of peaceful protests and do not damage government properties, so that the country does not fall in civil war or conflict,” he added.

His supporters are expected to rally separately on January 24.

(NRT Digital Media)