Anti-Government Protests Turn Violent in Baghdad

Demonstrations began taking place in central Baghdad on February 11. The demonstrations, which started upon the request of the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, turned violent, resulting in clashes between police and pro-Sadr protesters. Thousands of protesters pushed towards Baghdad’s Green Zone, a secure area housing government buildings and foreign embassies, which has reportedly been hit by several rockets. Sadr has called for these recent demonstrations to demand change within the electoral commission, which oversees elections. There are allegations that the commission is not independent because many of its members are linked to political parties. On February 17, Sadr also called for a silent mass demonstration in Baghdad’s Liberation Square, requesting that supporters organize peacefully to avoid violating the law. This call for a peaceful protest comes in response to the cases of violence that occurred over the past weeks, which include the firing of two Katyusha-style rockets from the heavily pro-Sadrist district of Baladiyat into the militarily secure Green Zone.

Shots rang out in central Baghdad during the demonstrations as security forces used tear gas and live fire to disperse the crowds. Many Sadrists believe the government instructed riot police to use violence against the demonstrators. This follows the deaths of five protesters and two security personnel, as well as 320 injured during the clashes. Sadr has reiterated that protests must be peaceful. The cleric has even requested specifically that security forces protect the protesters and urged police not to use force.

This escalation of mutual accusations and differences between the Iraqi government and Sadrists has led the Parliament Speaker, Salim al-Jabouri, to call for the formation of a parliamentary committee to investigate the targeting of protesters. He emphasized the obligation to protect demonstrators and to refrain from violence.