DAYS after an Anglican priest in Baghdad warned that corruption posed a greater danger to Iraq than Islamic State (IS) (News, 4 October), mass protests against the government broke out, sparking the worst violence since the crushing of IS two years ago.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that, since the protests began on 1 October, more than 110 people had been killed and 6000 wounded in the uprising, driven by anger over corruption and unemployment. The agency’s journalists had witnessed snipers killing and wounding protesters by firing into crowds from rooftops.
On Monday, a statement from the Iraqi military said: “Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used, and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts.”
Last month, the Chaplain of St George’s, Baghdad, the Revd Faez Jirjees, said that corruption was more dangerous than IS, in Iraq: “It’s destroying the economy, and the economy is the right of the Iraqi citizen” (News, 4 October).
On Monday, the chief executive of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, Mike Simpson, relayed a message from an unnamed contact in Iraq, reporting that services at St George’s were cancelled on Sunday. The message went on: “I was able at the very last minute to leave Baghdad airport and fly to Erbil where I have internet connection. Baghdad has been disconnected since Wednesday. Please keep us in your prayers.”
On Saturday, the government agreed to reforms, including increased subsidised housing for the poor, and stipends for the unemployed. The families of those killed would receive handouts usually given to members of the security forces killed during war. Further concessions were announced on Tuesday, including training and educational initiatives for unemployed young people.
Both the Iraqi President, Barham Salih, and the chair of Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights, Aqeel al-Musawi, have condemned the response of the security forces to the protests. The Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, has promised to meet with protesters and “sit with them for hours to listen to their demands”.
A Middle East researcher, Renad Mansour, told the BBC last week that Iraqis were “rejecting a system that has been imposed on them for 16 years. . . A Prime Minister who had promised reform, a government that had meant to be a new government, has thus far really been unable to stand up against the influence and interference of those political parties in Iraq that want to maintain the system.” Governments had been unable to provide for Iraqis’ basic needs, he said.
In a letter read out by a representative during a sermon last week, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a senior Shia cleric, said: “It is sorrowful that there have been so many deaths, casualties, and destruction.
“The government and political sides have not answered the demands of the people to fight corruption or achieved anything on the ground. Parliament holds the biggest responsibility for what is happening.”