Iraqi MPs ride tuk-tuks to parliament in memory of slain protesters

The humble three-wheeled taxi became a symbol of the country's 2019 protest movement

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Iraq's newly elected independent MPs travelled to parliament in Baghdad on Sunday in tuk-tuk taxis, vehicles that have become synonymous with the country's protest movement.

The tuk-tuks rose to prominence in October 2019 when their drivers joined anti-government demonstrations across the country.

The volunteer drivers were hailed as heroes as they used their vehicles to ferry injured protesters to hospital.

The politicians from the newly formed Imtidad movement regard themselves as the opposition to Iraqi governments that have emerged through the informal ethno-sectarian quota system that has been in place since the 2003 US-led invasion.

They gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square early on Sunday and were crossed Al Jamhouriya Bridge in tuk-tuks, travelling towards the fortified Green Zone where Iraq's parliament building is situated.

“Today is a great day,” said Alaa Al Rikabi, Imtidad co-founder and a prominent activist in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

“God willing, it will be a better beginning for the country’s future,” said Mr Al Rikabi, who was wearing a black suit to mourn those killed in the protests. An Iraqi flag was draped around his neck.

Tuk-tuks are often used as taxis in poor neighbourhoods but have become the target of government crackdowns because of their role in street protests.

They were banned from being driven in certain cities and were the focus of police checks. Tuk-tuk drivers say they are being unfairly targeted by the authorities.

A tuk-tuk drives away from tear gas fired by Iraqi security forces during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad, Iraq October 26, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

Mr Al Rikabi, a doctor in his 40s, has treated some of Iraq's wounded protesters. More than 600 people were killed by militias and security forces in months of demonstrations across Baghdad and southern cities.

Imtidad is calling for an end to government corruption and for better services, including health care and electricity. They also want Iraq’s young people to feel empowered and have employment opportunities.

Despite lacking the lavish funds of the established parties, they won nine of the 329 seats in the Iraqi Council of Representatives in the October 10 election.

Iraq's major political blocs retained their dominance but the election was marked by a record-low turnout.

“Tuk-tuk the rebel, from being on the Al Jamhouriya Bridge three years ago to entering parliament and beginning work today,” tweeted Noor Al Jalihawe, a human-rights activist.

“The tuk-tuk taxi will make parliament a revolutionary square similar to the one outside the walls of the Green Zone."

Updated: January 09, 2022, 3:20 PM