In Tahrir Square, in the center of Baghdad, the permanent representatives of the popular revolution have put up Iraq’s “wall of wishes.” Here, on thousands of post-it notes, the demonstrators have written down their dreams for the country. Someone wrote: “I want the bloodbath to end.”
But it is not ending. People are dying and there is no clear path forward. On Thursday, the Iraqi police killed at least 29 people in Nassiriya, in the Shiite south.
The extremely violent repression is continuing, against every manifestation of the protests that began on Oct. 1. The demonstrations have been creative, focused on autonomy, in Tahrir. In Basra, there was civil disobedience through strikes and blocking the ports and oil fields. There’s also the anger of those who are attacking the symbols of power head-on: the Green Zone in the capital and the Iranian consulates in the country’s south.
Thursday’s massacre followed the burning of the Iranian consulate in Najaf on Thursday. The demonstrators stormed the building, replaced the Iranian flag with the Iraqi one and then set the building on fire.
This happened not far from the home of the highest Shiite authority in the country, Ayatollah al-Sistani. “We’ll cut off the hands of anyone who tries to touch him,” threatened Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, commander of the People’s Mobilization Forces, the Shiite militias with strong ties to Tehran.
The government’s response is to move toward setting up a police state. Since Thursday, Baghdad, in addition to using live ammunition against the demonstrators, has also set up “crisis cells,” teams consisting of military and local authorities tasked to direct the security forces in putting down the protests. In parallel, the government is disingenuously pursuing a seemingly peaceful path to quelling the anger of the protesters, with the removal of the army commander in Nassiriya, General Jamil Shummary, ordered by Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi.
At the same time, protesters in the southern provinces defied the curfew imposed on Wednesday and took to the streets for the funerals of those killed, as the death toll has risen to over 370 after two months of mobilization. More than 15,000 people have been injured, and it is difficult to know the number of those arrested and disappeared.
During the funeral processions, the protesters surrounded the headquarters of the army, which was cut off by men from local tribes who took up positions along the main streets to prevent the arrival of military reinforcements.
The people in the streets are not retreating in the face of repression, and they say they are no longer afraid of anything: “Nothing justifies this use of violence against us,” a demonstrator told the AP. “We, the people, are extremely angry. Our blood is boiling. Our brothers were killed unjustifiably. But this use of force won’t scare us. More of us have gone out to the streets” as a result.
They have very little to lose. The revolution has radical aspirations, just like in other parts of the world in recent months: the dismantling of the entire system of political and economic power, marked by corruption, sectarianism and feral neoliberalism.
In Iraq, all this translates into poverty, structural inequalities and youth unemployment. The dispassionate power wielded by foreign oil companies that extract crude oil and sell it abroad leaves Iraqi cities without electricity and dependent on food imports, because the drought and lack of reconstruction projects have forced people to leave the countryside, already in very poor condition.
This system is the fruit of the US occupation of Iraq in 2003. The population does blame the United States for it, but more so they are blaming Iran, which has set up its own shadow government in Baghdad.
On Thursday, Tehran—which has been working for weeks to strengthen the Iraqi prime minister—called for an iron fist approach against the demonstrators and “communicated its disgust to the Iraqi ambassador in Tehran,” according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic.
What is even more disgusting, however, is the global silence surrounding these massacres. This is how a protester described the situation to Amnesty International: “People were being shot in their chests and necks. Most injuries are from the head, chest, neck … It is like an execution … The street was filled with blood.”