Protesters march to mark one year since start of protest wave in Iraq

Some protesters, activists remain missing
FILE: Iraqi demonstrators smash concrete walls at Sinak Bridge during the ongoing anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili/File

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SULAIMANI — Demonstrators gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and in other cities across central and southern Iraq on Thursday (October 1) to mark the first anniversary of the beginning of a wave of anti-government protests that challenged the political elite by demanding root-and-branch changes to governance in Iraq, bringing down Adil Abdul Mahdi’s government and setting the stage for early elections.

The protests were largely driven by youth disaffected by high unemployment, poor public services, corruption, and foreign interference in Iraqi affairs. While many of the most internationally-visible images came out of Baghdad, smaller cities like Kabala, Nasiriya, Basra, Najaf, and Kut saw large scale-demonstrations.

The government and third-party militia groups reacted to the calls for better governance by cracking-down, employing snipers and military-grade tear gas canisters against the unarmed demonstrators.

According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), at least 487 protesters were killed and 7,715 others were wounded at protest sites, although some estimates suggest a higher toll.

Between October 1 and March 21, 123 protesters and human rights activists were abducted by armed groups, according to UNAMI. As of late August, 23 of those people remain missing.

Even in the face of this violence, the protests persisted for months, with activists camped out in centralized areas.

In November, then-Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi stepped down, a key demand of the protesters. He would not be replaced until May, when Mustafa al-Kadhimi came to power. In the interim, several prime ministerial candidates were rejected in part because of opposition from the protesters.

From the start, Kadhimi made the protesters’ demand of holding early elections a key promise of his government. The polls are scheduled for June 2021.

(NRT Digital Media)