As the protests across southern Iraq continues, the security forces seem to be increasing the intensity of their efforts to disperse and suppress the protesters. Over the past 24 hours, 37 people were reported dead across cities in southern Iraq, with numbers due to rise amidst on-going clashes.
The protests across Iraq, which have now gone for 35 days since the second round started on October 25th, have witnessed a significant surge of violence over the past two weeks, with the last three days seeing the highest death tolls.
Much of the violence took place across Southern Iraq, with the city of Nasiriya in Dhi Qar seemingly emerging as the epicentre. However, the cities of Basra and Najaf have also witnessed heavy violence, with the efforts of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to disperse the protesters causing the majority of the casualties. It is estimated that 37 people have died over the course of 24 hours alone, resulting from not only live ammunition but also tear gas canisters that were fired at close distance. With clashes on-going, the number is almost certain to rise.
It would appear that the rising numbers of casualties have directly resulted from the increasingly-harsh responses of the security forces. This was most evident in Nasiriya where the majority of the casualties took place on the Nasr and Zeitoun bridges where the security forces attempted to disperse the protesters and implement a curfew.
Since then, the Iraqi Government has sacked the head of the Crisis Cell in Dhi Qar, Jamil al-Shammari, seemingly in a bid to show the protest movement that it is taking violent attacks against the protesters seriously. However, violent clashes in Nasiriya continued overnight, with more casualties reported. Indeed, the violent response of the ISF and the efforts to implement a curfew only appears to have galvanised the protesters who showed up to the funerals of the fallen protesters in force.
Security forces elsewhere in southern Iraq, such as Basra, the ISF has deployed in force. Basra has witnessed some of the heaviest protests over the recent weeks, resulting in repeated closures of the port of Um Qasr Port that serves as Iraq’s main avenue of oil exports. Officials in Basra have announced that they have a plan to re-implement law and order. However, many protesters feel that Baghdad has failed to adhere to the demands of the protesters.
Meanwhile in the holy city of Najaf, protesters burnt down the Iranian Consulate, viewing Iran as having undue influence over Iraqi Government and having a role in the violent suppression of the protesters. The development has angered both Baghdad and Tehran and appears to be linked to the increasing violent response, with the Iraqi Government blaming “provocateurs” and “foreign agents” for the incident.
However, standing apart from much of the authorities, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, also based in Najaf, has remained supportive of the protest movement, calling on the Iraqi Parliament to take the necessary steps to take the demands of the protesters seriously, condemning the killings of protesters while calling on the protest movement to remain peaceful. As one of the foremost religious authorities in Iraq and widely respected across the Shia-majority southern Iraq, al-Sistani’s words are a significant source of legitimacy for the protesters and may further galvanise the movement.
Earlier today, following Sistani’s calls, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi stated that he would submit his resignation to parliament.