Iraq protest
A young man stands atop debris while tear gas and sparks fill the air in Baghdad, Iraq. Hadi Mizban/AP Images

Death toll of Iraqi protests rising

Demonstrators calling for political, socioeconomic reform

Iraqi protesters who took to the streets on Oct. 1 are demanding political and socioeconomic reform throughout the country.

Many Iraqi citizens believe the ruling class is failing to rule fairly and have accused them of siphoning the country’s oil riches. Thousands of people have joined together throughout Iraq in protest to demand the government address corruption, high unemployment rates and other faults such as the lack of electricity and clean water. Many have called for the resignation of several high-profile politicians as well.

“When we are protesting, we don’t aim to dirty or destroy streets,” one unnamed protester told Democracy Now. “Our goal is to achieve our demands and to live in a homeland with peace and security. God willing and with the determination of our brothers, the protesters, we will achieve our aspirations. We are university students. We left college and joined the protesters. God willing, we will have success.”

Security forces have used tear gas, live ammunition and grenades against protesters. “It is hard for us, like it’s hard for everyone to see how the security forces are dealing with us, how they’re killing us by tear gas, live ammunition,” one protester, who requested to remain anonymous, told BBC. “And it’s tearing us apart, but we are strong, and we’re going to stand still and demand what’s right for us.”

Hospitals have reported that at least 339 protesters have died as a result of the demonstrations since they began on Oct. 1. An additional 15,000 people have been injured. The death and injury toll is expected to rise in the coming days as the protests continue. 

At least 25 demonstrators were killed in the city of Najaf on Nov. 28 when security forces fired guns and tear gas into crowds of protesters staging sit-ins on two bridges. The city held a funeral for those who had died on the bridges on Nov. 30. “This man was protesting holding an Iraqi flag and a flower,” one person in mourning told Reuters. “He was shot dead. He’s a sacrifice for the nation.”  

In addition to using live ammunition and tear gas, the Iraqi government has also cut off internet access to certain areas of the country, according to Democracy Now. Officials are also monitoring Facebook pages for any possible posts calling for action against the government. 

Abel Abdul Mahdi gave in to one of the protesters’ many demands on Nov. 29 when he announced his resignation. Despite his announcement, however, the resignation will not be deemed official until it is voted on and approved by the Iraqi Parliament. 

While many protesters celebrated Mahdi’s resignation, they also claim it is not enough to stop protesting. “It is our first demand,” a protester known only as Hejar told BBC. “That will change something. Then our second demand is to shut down parliament. We’re hoping it’s going to happen because our young guys are very strong and they have their words, we say that we’re going to stay here.”