Iraq tightens security around Baghdad government complex amid protest calls

Leaderless 2019 protests were the biggest and most effective in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, leading to the resignation of the government

Followers of Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr near the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, August 30, 2022. Reuters
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Iraqi authorities increased security measures around the government complex in Baghdad amid calls for protests on October 1 to mark the third anniversary of the 2019 pro-reform protests.

The calls for protests have been flooding social media and flyers were also distributed in some Baghdad streets.

“To the free and honest Iraqis, the Iraqi youths are calling upon you to take to the streets on Saturday October 1,” one announcement says.

In a sign that the organisers are aiming to break into the Green Zone ― the seat of key government offices, parliamentary and foreign embassies ― the flyer adds: “The people will have their own say inside Al Khadhraa,” using the Arabic word for green.

The call, however, is for peaceful, disciplined and organised protests.

The call is being made by the previously unknown Central Committee for October 1st Protests.

Flat lorries were seen bringing blast walls during the night to be erected around the Green Zone. At some sections more than one line was put up.

Since last week, security forces have been training around the area by deploying and closing off roads leading to it.

The protests demanding jobs, better services, an end to the endemic corruption and overhauling the political system, started in October 2019 with a few people in Baghdad then spread to other cities in central and southern Iraq.

Leaderless protests have been the biggest and most effective tactic in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was ousted, leading to the resignation of the government and the approving of a new elections law.

In early 2020, the protests started to falter after heavy-handed crackdowns by government agencies and Iran-backed militias, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

At least 560 protesters and members of security forces were killed in the violence, while tens of thousands were wounded, many with live ammunition.

Dozens of activists reported intimidation and there were many kidnappings and assassinations, with many of them forced to leave the country.

Activists accused Iran-backed militias of being behind the assassinations to try to subdue the protests. The government and militias blamed “third parties”, without specifying who they were.

Meanwhile, the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework is close to announce a coalition with Kurds and Sunnis that could not only expedite the government formation process, but also provoke the powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who has boycotted the political process.

The announcement was planned for Sunday, but was postponed.

Fadi Al Shimmari, a politician affiliated to CF, said the agreement was finalised late on Sunday with two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Sunni Azam and Sovereignty coalition as well as the Christian Babylonian party.

Once officially formalised, the coalition will have more than 200 seats, enough to form a new government, but CF leaders have said they will not move ahead with the formation process without Mr Al Sadr's backing.

The country has been in political stalemate since the national election last October, the fifth parliamentary vote for a full-term government since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam.

The main quarrel is between the two largest Shiite groups over who will form the government and how to divide critical posts, including ministerial positions.

The process ground to a halt when a political group endorsed by Mr Al Sadr resigned from parliament, seeking to dissolve the legislative body and hold snap elections.

Iraq's latest crisis culminated at the end of August with Mr Al Sadr's supporters clashing with the army and the Iran-backed factions after weeks of protest around parliament in the Green Zone of Baghdad.

More than 30 of the cleric's supporters were killed and hundreds wounded in nearly 24 hours of violence that ended when he called on his supporters to pull out, demanding an end even to peaceful protests.

Updated: September 26, 2022, 9:49 AM
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