Iraqi Government Sends Mixed Signals as Protests Continue

March 4, 2011

On Friday Iraqis will take to the streets again in mourning over the 29 peaceful demonstrators who were killed last week in Baghdad’s Day of Rage. Among the protesters killed was a 14-year-old boy. As in previous protests, demonstrators will also demand political reform, an end to corruption, and jobs as well as clean water, food and electricity.

In an effort to prevent demonstrators from reaching Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on February 25, bridges and roads leading to Baghdad were closed off, a curfew was set in place and Al-Maliki said on television that Al-Qaeda operatives might be shooting people at the protests. Thousands of soldiers and riot police were deployed in the streets of Baghdad on the days of protests. Later “forces fired water cannons, sound bombs and live bullets to disperse crowds,” according to the Washington Post.

As February 25 approached Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on the Iraqi government to respect the rights of protesters to assemble peacefully. Protesters who demonstrated before the Day of Rage had been attacked, beaten and stabbed by gangs. Besides the beatings, detentions and killings of protesters, Al-Maliki’s government detained around 300 peaceful demonstrators.

Yet in response to continuing protests across the country Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has given government ministers 100 days to eliminate corruption or be fired, according to CNN.

Stephanie McCrummen writes in the Washington Post, “Crowds forced the resignation of the governor of the southern province of Basra and the entire city council of Fallujah.”

Journalists continue to be targeted for their work—one was shot dead last week, while many others are beaten, detained, threatened and even tortured. The television station Aldiyar was closed by security forces on February 27 and seven of its staff were arrested for covering the protests. Hadi Al-Mahdi, who runs a radio show with a Facebook page, told NPR reporter Kelly McEvers about his detention. There are also reports that journalists have been given bribes—land plots and car loans—in order not to cover the protests.

Al-Maliki’s government apologized for the detention of journalists on March 1, promising to protect the freedom of the press and to regain reporters’ trust. Friday will tell if these promises will be kept.