Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Baghdad to mark one year since mass anti-government demonstrations swept the Iraqi capital and the country’s south, demanding reforms and an overhaul of the political system.
Demonstrators on Sunday marched in Baghdad and several southern cities including Najaf, Nasiriya and Basra to renew calls proclaimed a year ago to bring an end to corruption by politicians.
Mustafa Hussein, in his 20s, participated in the demonstrations last year and returned to Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protests, on Sunday. He said little had changed.
“Our demands that we wrote with the blood of our martyrs are still on the lists of officials without implementation,” he said.
More than 500 people were killed during the months-long movement that began in October last year, many of them were protesters shot by Iraqi security forces who used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds. In some cases, tear gas canisters struck the heads of demonstrators, killing them instantly.
By February, the protests had petered out in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions, prompting activists to call off mass marches and sit-ins.
In October of last year, tens of thousands of Iraqis – mostly young people – marched in Baghdad and cities in the south to decry government corruption, unemployment and poor services.
Demonstrators took over public squares in Baghdad and camped out for months, refusing to leave until their demands were met.
The movement had early successes. Pressure from demonstrators led to the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government. Mustafa al-Kadhimi assumed the position after months of political deadlock and after two previous candidates failed to garner enough support among elites.
Al-Kadhimi has presented himself as a champion of the protesters’ demands, appointing longtime activists among his close group of advisers. He promised early elections, a key demand of the protesters, would be held next June.
Despite crackdowns from armed groups and the government, protesters say their movement is still alive.
“We have only this revolution to achieve our goals,” Ahmed said. “If it can’t, Iraq will be lost.”
Meanwhile, independent Iraqi analyst Zeidon Alkinani said the protesters are “very well organised” and are “politically aware”.
Even though “not much has changed” since the protests erupted a year ago, Alkinani told Al Jazeera the youth-led grassroots movement is still standing up “against the political elite – whether in the government, in the militias, or in the political parties”.
“Maybe in the early stages of the October revolution we saw the resignation of the [former] prime minister, and the announcement of a possible resignation of the president. These are symbolic achievements … yet we don’t have drastic changes,” he said.
The protests are now also focusing on “getting justice” for the hundreds of protesters who were killed since last year, Alkinani noted.