Providence Magazine | Jeremy Barker | Nov. 26, 2019
Religious minorities hope the Iraqi protest movement can reshape the country to serve the interests of all Iraqis
Demonstrations on the streets of Baghdad continue even as the violence used against the protestors escalates.
Since protests resumed on October 24, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and other key sites across southern Iraq, calling for profound changes to Iraq’s political system.
Images from the protests have been striking. From heroic “Tuk Tuk” ambulance rescues amidst clouds of teargas, to protest anthems and art displays promoting the unity and freedom of the Iraqi people, the emerging stories are inspiring.
Despite intense opposition to the protests and attempts to cut off information access, the protestors remain non-violent and started a newspaper for the protest movement. The reported death toll has climbed to more than 300, with scores more injured by security forces or militias. Many were injured when military-grade tear gas canisters were shot directly into the crowds.
The protests have focused on a few core problems that have deeply affected the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein following the US-led invasion in 2003. First, corruption that enriches elites also prevents the government from delivering services or combating high unemployment. Second, Iran has vast influence in Iraq’s political and economic life, and Iranian-backed militias, who participated in the fight against the Islamic State, have destabilized security throughout the country.
But the heart of the protests is a rejection of Iraq’s institutionalized sectarianism that influences everything from key government positions to the distribution of oil revenues.