BAGHDAD: Two demonstrators died in Baghdad early on Monday after being shot in confrontations with security forces, the first victims of protest-related violence under a new Iraqi premier who had promised a dialogue with activists.
The deaths threaten to reignite an unprecedented protest movement against government graft and incompetence that erupted across Baghdad and southern Iraq in October but had waned in recent months.
On Sunday, demonstrators staged angry rallies in the capital and several southern cities, where temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) have swelled demand for air-conditioning, overwhelming dilapidated power grids.
In Baghdad, dozens gathered at the protest hub of Tahrir Square, clashing with police and other security forces.
“Two protesters died this morning. One was shot with a tear gas canister in the head, and another in the neck,” a medical source said on Monday.
Their bodies were carried through Tahrir by fellow activists, before being driven to Najaf south of the capital for burial.
“We had no guns, no knives, just our chants,” said Ahmad Jabbar, a male protester in the square.
“We (clashed) with them for six hours. They wouldn’t even let the ambulances come get the wounded,” he said. More rallies have been called for Monday night, with activists demanding the release of fellow protesters arrested the previous evening.
“If our guys aren’t freed, we’re going to ramp up our efforts. We’re staying in our tents, and we’re not afraid,” said protester Maytham al-Darraji.
The two deaths were the first since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who had promised a dialogue with protesters, took office in May.
His office acknowledged “unfortunate events” in protest squares, but insisted security forces had been instructed not to use violence unless absolutely necessary.
It said the government would carry out an investigation and hold those responsible to account.
Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2020