Iraqis march in Baghdad to mark protests anniversary

Iraqis commemorate the victims of a crackdown against protesters demanding an overhaul of Iraq’s ruling class, days before a new parliamentary vote.

Iraqi protesters marked the second anniversary of anti-government protests in Baghdad [Saba Kareem/Reuters]

Hundreds of Iraqis have taken to the streets in Baghdad to mark two years since fierce protests roiled the Iraqi capital, fuelled by anger over corruption and unemployment.

About 1,000 protesters marched to Tahrir Square on Friday, 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.

“You will not silence the voice of Tishreen,” Arabic for October, one banner read.

The commemoration comes ahead of early elections, which had been a key demand during the protests.

Some protesters who demand an overhaul of the entire political system have called for a boycott of the vote, scheduled for October 10.

“I am against participating in these elections because they are meaningless. It’s the same parties in power and nothing will change,” Walid al-Madani, a 39-year-old civil servant taking part in Friday’s protest, told The Associated Press.

Demonstrators also decried a string of targeted assassinations against civil society groups and outspoken activists since the protests began. No one has yet been held accountable.

Placards read “When will we see the killers behind bars?” and “No to corrupt parties, no to corrupt politicians.”

Marching under heavy police scrutiny, a 20-year-old protester, who identified himself as Ibrahim, told AFP news agency that he was doing so “in memory of the martyrs” and “the massacres committed by the government against young pacifists”.

He vowed not to cast his ballot in the upcoming elections.

“The election will reproduce the same corrupt system, and the same corrupt parties. Only the names and faces change,” he said.

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.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the targeted killings, but protesters point the finger at powerful pro-Iranian militias linked to the Iraqi government.

Experts say the same major political blocs are likely to dominate the next parliament and predict a record low turnout among the 25 million voters.

The vote will be the fifth parliamentary election since the United States-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

It had initially been set for next year but was brought forward to appease protesters.

The Shia Muslim majority are expected to remain in the driving seat, as has been the case since Saddam’s Sunni-led regime was removed from power.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies