Protesters commemorate October 25th with Palestinian flags, anti-corruption slogans

Protesters commemorate October 25th with Palestinian flags, anti-corruption slogans

Shafaq News/ Hundreds of Iraqis have taken to the streets in Baghdad to mark four years since fierce protests roiled the country, fuelled by anger over corruption and unemployment.

The demonstrators marched to al-Firdous Square on Wednesday carrying photos of friends and relatives killed by security forces during the uprising, which began in October 2019 and fizzled out after a bloody crackdown resulted in the death of over 600 people.

The 2019 demonstration saw tens of thousands camp out in Tahrir Square until early 2020, when the crackdown and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic turned the streets largely quiet.

Palestinian flags were ubiquitous in the gathering. The demonstrators changed slogans and lifted placards in solidarity with Gaza, where thousands perished under heavy Israeli bombardment.

They also demanded justice for their fellow protesters who were killed or injured due to the armed forces' violence and halting the US dollar smuggling outside the country.

The protests in 2019 were largely staged by a young, passionate generation of Iraqis demanding political and economic reform and an end to foreign interference in Iraqi politics.

The emergence of the protest movement, called Tishreen (the Arabic word for October), in 2019 seemed to foreshadow a different Iraq, where some of the demonstrators' goals would be realized – particularly because less than a month after the unrest began, then-prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was forced to resign as part of the street demands.

Young people camped in Tahrir Square for months, demanding an end to widespread government corruption, poor public services, and high unemployment. They also called for dismantling the political system, which is based on a less-than-transparent sectarian power-sharing arrangement among political elites.

Some demonstrators even took their movement from the streets to the ballot box and formed political parties, some of which did fairly well in the October 2021 national elections and secured seats in parliament.

In October 2022, violence engulfed Iraq's streets in clashes between different demonstrators than those Tishreenis from 2019 and 2020. The demonstrators that summer were largely loyal to maverick Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who forced a deadlock in parliament when he was unable to form a government, after his coalition won more seats than any other in the 2021 elections. Al-Sadr challenged the system, and instead of forming a government with other Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties, he tried to establish a government that excluded certain rivals he deemed "corrupt". When he failed to form a government, he instructed a mass resignation of 73 Sadrist members of the parliament. This left the door open for his Iranian-backed rivals to form a government without him, led now by Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani.

The clashes between al-Sadr's supporters and the Iranian-backed factions led to street battles in the fortified Green Zone, the area of Baghdad that is home to diplomats and high-ranking Iraqi officials. More than 30 people died in that summer. At one point, al-Sadr's supporters took over the parliament building.

When the Tishreenis returned to the streets in 2022, dozens were reported injured after Iraqi security forces used tear gas and other methods to disperse the crowds. They held portraits of those killed in the protest movement in 2019-2020 when at least 600 were killed and tens of thousands were wounded. Back then, the country's political focus was no longer on the protest movement's lofty goals of moving toward a secular state by dismantling the sectarian power-sharing system and eliminating government corruption. The government's immediate objective was to form a new government and prevent a civil war between millions of Sadrists and their Shiite rivals.

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