In just the first eight days of 2017, around one hundred Baghdad residents have been murdered and more than two hundred wounded in a series of terrorist bombings by the Islamic State group. This continues an IS strategy of attacking predominantly Shi’a suburbs and public places to create tension between Shi’a and Sunni Iraqis, and to demonstrate that the Iraqi government is not able to provide security to Iraqis. Many analysts expect that this will intensify as the IS group loses its territory in and around the city of Mosul in northern Iraq.
On Sunday night, following the latest suicide car bombings that killed more than twenty people, a spontaneous gathering occurred in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the location of weekly pro-reform protests. The crowd includes the family of victims. Based on Iraqi news reports and messages shared by Iraqis on social media, it seems that the people are gathering to protest the government’s inability to provide security and to demand accountability from those responsible for security in Baghdad. These demands have been voiced before, particularly after the devastating terrorist attack in the Baghdad suburb of Karrada during Ramadan in July 2016, which killed more than 320 people and left the city with deep scars.
The protest is small for now but may grow in the coming days. Protest participants have begun setting up tents for a sit-in and have used social media and word of mouth to ask for support in the form of tents and blankets. It shows once again that many politically engaged Iraqis see protest as the best way to express their frustration at a political system that seems unable to provide basic services and provide security against terrorism. My contacts have linked the lack of security to the problem of corruption, a perspective I’ve discussed on this blog.
Worryingly, one of my contacts told me that the government has blocked some of the roads around Tahrir Square, a tactic previously used to curtail mass demonstrations. There could be trouble if the security forces are indeed mobilised in response to this protest: deadly violence was used during the second attempt to infiltrate the Green Zone last year, and repression was used against a recent protest regarding the abduction of a journalist, Afrah Shawqi, who has since been released by her kidnappers. Actions to disperse or harm nonviolent protesters would only serve to reinforce the widespread public view that the political elite cares little for everyday Iraqis and is interested only in protecting itself.