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Mon, 20 Jan 2020 20:05 GMT

Iraq: Internet Blackout as Death Toll from Protests Rises

Politics

Ghada Ghaleb

Wed, 06 Nov 2019 15:16 GMT

Demonstrators in the Iraqi capital Baghdad blocked many roads for the third day in a row for a general strike because the government has been ignoring their demands. At least three protesters were allegedly killed during clashes with security forces in the south of the country.

Demonstrators are demanding an end to corruption, an end to Iran's political parties and to establish a presidential rather than a parliamentary system.

A 7D reporter in Iraq reported on Wednesday November 6th that protesters were massing in front of the gate of an oil refinery in the southern province of Diwaniya and preventing trucks from entering and leaving.

Also, in the south, a protester is believed to have been killed and eight others injured when Iraqi security forces dispersed a large demonstration in front of the port of Umm Qasr port in Basra province, according to AFP. The agency said the casualties were caused by security forces' attempting to reopen the main port in Umm Qasr, which was closed by protesters three days ago.

Footage showed demonstrators taking control of a military vehicle after the withdrawal of an Iraqi army force that refused to engage the protesters, according to Sky News.

Medical sources in Basra province called on residents of Umm Qasr to donate blood to help the injured, who are believed to have "fallen as a result of attempts by riot police to disperse protesters with tear gas," a 7D reporter said.

Security and medical sources said security forces were believed to have killed two people and wounded 12 in Nassiriya province, according to Sky News.

To the south of the Iraqi capital, specifically in Karbala, the tribes of the province gave the Iraqi government 72 hours to hand over the killers of demonstrators in the province, Reuters reported.

The demonstrators hung a banner on the building of the Iranian consulate in Karbala, saying it was closed by the people, the day after the deaths of demonstrators during the attempt to storm the Iranian consulate.

Iraqi sources have reported the killing of four demonstrators during the dispersal of security forces demonstrations in front of the Iranian consulate in the city. Angry protesters besieged the consulate for the second time in 24 hours, according to Reuters.

Photos broadcast by activists showed a number of wounded were receiving first aid after being injured during protests in Karbala, CNN and Sky News report.

Internet Disconnected

Iraqi authorities cut internet access for hours on Monday evening. On Tuesday, the Internet service was shut down again in Iraq, after it returned briefly.

In a statement late on Monday, the NetBlocks Observatory for Internet Monitoring said that Internet services had been interrupted, explaining that public Internet connections had fallen below 19% from normal levels, causing disconnection to tens of millions of users in Baghdad and Basra and Karbala and other provinces were also affected, according to CNN.

This is not the first time that the Iraqi authorities have cut Internet services, as it had previously been cut off in the face of the wave of protests. The New York Times hinted that the disconnection of internet services is an indicator of the response to out-of-control demonstrations.

Government Meetings

The Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi held a meeting on Monday in the presence of the President of the Supreme Judicial Council and the President of the House of Representatives and the Ministers of Defence and Interior and a number of security leaders.

The meeting discussed measures to maintain law and order in Baghdad and other Iraqi areas where demonstrations are taking place.

The participants asserted their support to the judicial and legislative authorities and security agencies to impose security and stability and protect demonstrators and private and public property.

Causes of the Crisis

The general strike and the blocking of major roads in the neighbourhoods of the Iraqi capital have become a new aspect of the peaceful protest of the demonstrators. In addition to the bridges of al-Gumhurriya and Alsink, demonstrators cut the Ahrar Bridge, one of the most important bridges inside Baghdad.

The developments came with the renewed popular protests in many Iraqi cities, on Tuesday, which the New York Times said was against the hateful Iranian occupation. It explained that most of the ministries are under the control of the parties of Iran, and Iran has exploited the war on "Isis" to dominate the Iraqi state.

Clashes between Iraqi security forces and protesters are believed to have killed more than 260 people since protests began in early October, according to Reuters.

The protests began quietly a month or so ago with sporadic protests. It expanded steadily until last week as more than 200,000 Iraqis marched in Baghdad in the largest demonstration in modern Iraqi history, protesting against the Iraqi government and what the newspaper called "Iranian interference".

The 7D correspondent agreed with the New York Times, saying the protesters had outraged Iran, which they now see as having considerable influence inside their own country, as well as screaming against Iraqi parties linked to Iran. They shout slogans “Baghdad is free”, and “Get out Iran". This rant spread through the streets and in the squares of the Iraqi capital, in the city of Karbala and in the back alleys and university corridors. These protests have turned into a struggle over who will shape the future of the country.

"The revolution is hostile to Iran," says Saad Iskandar, the former head of Iraq's national archives. He adds that the protesters are tired of corruption and militias linked to Iran, some of which have developed into a huge mafia. "This is more than that .. Revolution has a social dimension."

With the US pulling out of Iraq after 2009, Iran-linked parties have expanded their networks within the government, the Wall Street Journal says. In 2014, Iran exploited the war against Isis and helped form militias to fight them. By 2018 it had become so strong that political parties linked to Iran became the dominant government.

At the same time, at the grassroots level and among the country's youth, there was a growing feeling that Iran was benefiting and expanding at the expense of Iraq, making Iran a part of the political background of the protests.

The crisis, according to Mahmoud Abdelmajid, professor of international relations at the American University in Cairo AUC, is because the demonstrators want to implement their demands immediately and this is difficult. Iraqi President Barham Saleh is trying to take steps in this direction by introducing legislation that would eliminate the current system of party lists and allow voters to vote for individual candidates. But in essence, the legislation requires parliament to adopt a system that costs many of its members seats.

Meanwhile, Professor of International Relations explained to 7Dnews that Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, despite being heavily criticised, has taken steps to improve the lives of Iraqis, expand and supply electricity, improve relations with Iraqi Kurds and remove the walls that have divided Baghdad. But he is still a "weak leader" from the standpoint of the demonstrators because of a political agreement drafted by Iran. Under the agreement, parties linked to Iran control at least five key ministries, including the ministries of electricity, oil, interior, communications, labour and social affairs. This gives them access to thousands of jobs, nepotism, contracts, grants and generates the corruption condemned by the protesters.

Middle East