Protests in Baghdad today have turned bloody as police clashed with anti-government demonstrators. One person has been killed, and 200 wounded, including 40 members of the police and security forces, according to Iraqi officials. Over one thousand citizens took part in demonstrations against unemployment, government corruption, and poor services for the people. They clashed with security forces who used rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons to disperse the crowds. There has been no independent confirmation of the numbers provided by the Iraqi government, however, sources outside of the government claim the death toll is now 4, and the internet is down in Baghdad. Demonstrations were also reported to have taken place in other parts of Iraq, including the cities of al-Najaf and Kirkuk.
It was the largest demonstration against the government since Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi came to power late last October. Unemployment has been a major concern among the populace. Youth unemployment is especially high, running at about 25 percent. Many university graduates took part in today’s demonstrations, claiming the government has not done enough to provide jobs. Lack of public services is also a major complaint. Power cuts, and water shortages have become part of daily life in many areas of Iraq. It appears now that Iraqis are putting Mahdi and the government on notice.
Some of the demonstrators were carrying portraits of General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a popular general credited with leading the fight against the Islamic State. Last week, al-Saadi was fired from his post by the government, and the move likely helped spur today’s demonstrations. Last summer, similar demonstrations took place in Basra.
The government’s heavy-handed response could backfire and end up galvanize the Iraqi people. Don’t be surprise to see larger, more organized demonstrations cropping up in Baghdad as the week goes on. Whether or not Mahdi realizes it, his troubles are just beginning.