The anti-government demonstrations that began last October continue, as eight more protesters were killed this past week.
Millions of Iraqi citizens, outraged at entrenched government corruption, a dismal economy, and lack of basic living necessities, have taken to the streets in their fight for a decent life.
The Iraqi Human Rights Commission reports that some 550 protesters have been killed and almost 30,000 wounded.
Last Friday, the country’s leading Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, strongly condemned the most recent deaths of anti-government demonstrators and called on government security to end the bloodshed.
“They [security forces] must bear responsibility for maintaining security and stability, protecting peaceful protesters and their gathering places, revealing the identities of aggressors and infiltrators, and protecting the interests of citizens from the attacks of saboteurs,” said Sistani.
Confusion and Conflict
Eyewitness accounts, however, claim protesters were shot by supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shia politician and militia leader, whom, as we have reported, recently shifted his position as a backer of the protests. Dozens of his supporters, armed with machine guns and batons, raided the central square in Al-Tarbiyah, firing bullets and attacking protesters.
Al-Sadr’s sudden turnaround added more confusion and internal conflict to the situation in Iraq. For months Al-Sadr had been a leading backer of the anti-government demonstrations, ordering his “blue hat” militia supporters, known for their blue helmets, to protect protesters.
One factor that has remained consistent during the months-long protests is that a growing number of demonstrators are young, jobless, and not dependent on a strong leader.
Russia Rushing to Iraq?
Since the U.S assassination of General Soleimani on 3 January, Iraq and Russia have been in discussions about creating a stronger military alliance. Last Thursday, Iraqi army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanimi and the Russian Ambassador Maksim Maksimov met to review potential military strategy.
Al-Ghanimi praised Moscow’s help in the ongoing confrontation with ISIS stating the Russians “provided our armed forces with advanced and effective equipment and weapons that had a major role in resolving many battles.”
The growing alliance between Iraq and Russia comes in the wake of continued tension between Baghdad and Washington after the murder of Soleimani. That attack led to a resolution, which was passed, demanding U.S. and coalition troops to leave Iraq.
President Trump dismissed the resolution, stating, “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it. If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”
Last week, it was reported that Iraqi military officials gave orders for its forces to reduce their cooperation with U.S. and coalition troops.
In attempt to strengthen ties with Iraq, Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said, “I think we’re going to be able to find a way forward,” while admitting the U.S. and Iraq were “in a period of turbulence.”
This Land is Our Land
In addition to protesting government corruption and lack of jobs, Iraqi protesters are also demanding that U.S. and foreign troops leave the country.
Sky News Arabia reported yesterday that America is starting to withdraw some of its 6,000 troops from military bases across Iraq.
However, a correspondent for Kan, Israel’s state-owned news source, said he was told by a U.S. official the reports were not accurate and that the U.S. is “continuing our fight with the Iraqi military against [ISIS].”
France, Germany, and Australia are also reportedly withdrawing troops from Iraq.
TREND FORECAST: As the global economy slows down, oil prices will continue to drop. Thus, oil-rich Iraq’s Gross Domestic Product will continue to deteriorate, which will in turn increase social unrest. In response, the government will clamp down harder on protests, setting the stage for increased violence, civil war, and more waves of fleeing migrants.

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