Tear gas fired as thousands take to streets of Iraq to mark protest anniversary

Our Foreign Staff
·1 min read
Anti-government protesters sit-in on barriers set up by security forces in Iraq - AP
Anti-government protesters sit-in on barriers set up by security forces in Iraq - AP

Thousands of people took to Iraq's streets on Sunday to mark one year since mass anti-government demonstrations swept the country, with police firing tear gas in central Baghdad to stop protesters from crossing strategic bridges and both sides reporting injuries.

Protesters marched in the capital and several southern cities _ including Najaf, Nasiriyah and Basra _ to renew demands for an end to corruption by Iraq's political establishment.

The demonstrations Sunday are considered a test of the movement's strength following months of inactivity on the street. Despite reaching historic numbers in late 2019 and successfully mounting pressure on elites, the protests have been largely dormant in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Activists also blamed the drop in numbers on a violent crackdown by Iraqi security forces and militia groups, as well as kidnappings and targeted assassinations.

The renewed protests are also a test for Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, just five months in power. Al-Kadhimi has been vocal about his support for the protester's demands. His government came to power following the resignation of former Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi late last year.

He stepped down under pressure from protests sparked by security forces' heavy-handed response, including the use of live rounds and the killing of demonstrators.

More than 500 people were killed during the months-long protest movement, many of them demonstrators shot by Iraqi security forces.

The current administration cannot afford to do the same, al-Kadhimi's advisors have said. The government is also grappling with a severe liquidity crisis amid low oil prices that has slashed state coffers by half.