Iraq has been rocked by days of protests, as thousands of mostly young men have been demonstrating in different parts of the country against corruption, unemployment and poor public services.
Security forces have responded using water cannon, tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets. Scores of protesters have been killed and thousands wounded.
The mostly leaderless demonstrations are the biggest challenge yet to the year-old government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Here are the latest updates:
Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani gave the Iraqi government a two-week deadline to find out which “undisciplined elements” had used snipers to shoot demonstrators, in an apparent reference to the Iran-backed militias who are accused of a role in the crackdown.
Al-Sistani “demands that the government investigate to find out which elements gave orders to shoot protesters, whatever their affiliation,” a representative of the cleric said during a sermon in the holy city of Karbala.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced three days of mourning starting on Thursday for those killed in the protests, his office said in a statement.
At least 110 people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded in Baghdad and in the south, since security forces started cracking down on demonstrators.
The dead include at least nine members of the security forces.
Access to social media sites remained restricted despite calm returning to the street of the capital.
For a week internet access in Iraq has been progressively limited. First access to certain social media sites disappeared, followed by internet connections for telephones, computers and even virtual private network (VPN) applications.
Cyber-security NGO NetBlocks noted that “the state imposed a near-total telecommunication shutdown in most regions, severely limiting press coverage and transparency around the ongoing crisis”.
Providers told customers they were unable to provide a timetable for a return to uninterrupted service, information on restrictions, or any other details. Iraqi authorities have not commented on the restrictions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to exercise “maximum restraint” and address protesters’ grievances when the two men spoke on Tuesday, the State Department said in a statement.
Pompeo condemned the violence and said those who had “violated human rights should be held accountable”.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi issued a 13-point reform plan centred on subsidies and housing for the poor, as well as training and educational initiatives for unemployed youth.
The Iraqi premier posted his reforms on social media following an earlier cabinet meeting. Most Iraqis have been cut off from the internet and social media for several days now.
More than 200 parliamentarians arrived for an extraordinary session called by Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi following a failed attempt to hold such a meeting on Saturday.
PM Abdul Mahdi meanwhile held marathon meetings with al-Halbousi, the cabinet, tribal chiefs and the country’s top justices over the demonstrations, with his office’s statements insisting life had “returned to normal” after a week of bloody protests.
Naeem al-Maksousi, the head of Iraq’s state grain agency, was replaced by Hassanein Mahdi Elwan, government sources and a document seen by Reuters showed.
The reason for the replacement was not clear.
A government source told Reuters the move was routine, but a Middle East grains trader with close knowledge of the Iraqi market linked the change to the current protests over living conditions.
“The government has to make some changes with all what is happening in the country,” said the trader, who declined to be identified.
Iraqi authorities reopened Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone which houses key government offices and foreign embassies.
The zone was reopened after “successful negotiations” between the prime minister’s office and protesters, in which promises were made to fulfill demonstrators’ demands, the Iraqi News Agency reported.
Security restrictions were imposed at the mass gatherings’ outset to prevent protesters from entering the area.
Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned attacks on both protesters and the media, and urged security forces to preserve the rights of all Iraqis.
In a televised speech, Salih also called for ministerial changes and urged parliament to enact reforms, including electoral changes, to address the demands of protesters. He said compensation should be given to those affected by this week’s violence.
“The right to protest and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.
Global rights group Amnesty International called on Iraq’s authorities to “immediately end the unlawful blocking of access to the internet” and allow protesters to “assemble without fear of repercussion”.
“We continue to closely monitor the situation in Iraq,” the organisation said in a series of posts on Twitter.
“People are telling us that they have been cut them off from the world with an internet blackout. Our message to Iraqis: We are watching, we can hear you,” it added.
We continue to closely monitor the situation in #Iraq. People are telling us that they have been cut them off from the world with an internet blackout. Our message to Iraqis: We are watching, we can hear you.
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) October 7, 2019
Around 200 protesters took to the streets in Baghdad’s Sadr City eastern suburb, shouting slogans demanding job opportunities and denouncing the killing of demonstrators the previous night.
At least eight people were killed in clashes between army forces and protesters in Sadr City on Sunday night, witnesses told dpa news agency, while a security source said scores of people were wounded.
Reuters news agency put the death toll in the overnight violence at 15.
Iraq’s military admitted for the first time it had used “excessive force” against protesters demonstrating in Baghdad and several other cities dotted throughout the country’s south.
“Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts,” the military said in a statement.
It added that Abdul Mahdi had ordered those forces to be replaced with federal police units and the intelligence services to open an investigation into the incident, the AFP news agency reported.
The prime minister had earlier insisted security forces had been acting “within international standards” in dealing with the demonstrations.
Amid the unrest, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Baghdad to discuss the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran in the Gulf region.
Lavrov told reporters after meeting his Iraqi counterpart, Mohamed Ali al-Hakim, that the aim of Moscow and Baghdad is to “reduce escalation and we have a unified stance on putting forward initiatives regarding the Gulf region”.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have spiked sharply since US President Donald Trump last year unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal brokered between Iran and several other world powers and reimposed punishing sanctions on the former.
Iranian government spokesperson Ali Rabiei called on Iraqis to show restraint, according to local media reports.
“Iran will always stand by the Iraqi nation and the Iraqi government. We are calling on them to preserve unity and to show restraint,” Rabiei said.
He also said Iran would continue its efforts to ease tensions in the Gulf by improving ties with its Gulf Arab neighbours.
Faleh al-Fayyad, the head of Iraq’s powerful Hashd al-Shaabi force, said his group was ready to implement government orders to prevent “a coup d’etat or a rebellion”.
Fayyadh, whose force is mostly integrated into the state, told reporters he wanted “the fall of corruption, not the fall of the regime,” referring to protesters’ demands for a total overhaul of the Iraqi political system.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi discussed the protests in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his office said in a statement.
“The Prime Minister reviewed developments in the security situation and the return to normal life after the curfew was lifted, and confirmed that security forces had resumed control and stability had been restored,” it said.
The statement reiterated that the government has put forward a package of reforms and will continue to do more to meet the demands of the protesters.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei said in a tweet that “enemies” were trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad amid the unrest.
Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective. https://t.co/Psya7CJGLB
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) October 6, 2019
Iraq blames ‘malicious’ hands as toll from unrest tops 100
Iraq’s government denied that any of its security forces have fired directly at protesters during the demonstrations.
At least 109 people have now been killed since the unrest began on Tuesday – and more than 6,000 people have been injured.
Of the fatalities, at least 12 were confirmed killed as of early Monday, a medical official in a local hospital and a security official told The Associated Press news agency.
The officials, who did not provide details, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to reporters.
At least eight people were killed and 25 wounded in new clashes between demonstrators and police in eastern Baghdad, police and medical sources told Reuters news agency.
The deaths in Sadr city added to a toll of more than 100 people killed since the protests began.
Police, backed by the army, used live rounds and tear gas to disperse the crowds at two separate locations in Sadr City, police said.
Eight party buildings and 51 public and private institutions were set on fire during the demonstrations, Saad Maan, spokesman for Iraq’s interior ministry, told journalists in a news conference in Baghdad.
Maan also said that two police checkpoints were set ablaze during the protests.
An interior ministry spokesman said at least 104 people, including eight members of the security forces, were killed in the unrest, with 6,107 people wounded.
Saad Maan claimed government forces did not fire directly at protesters, saying that “malicious hands” targeted both protesters and security forces on Friday, the bloodiest day of the unrest in Baghdad.
He added that authorities condemned all attacks against media outlets, after reports of raids at the offices of several local and international news outlets by unidentified groups.
Soldiers fired in the direction of about 300 anti-government protesters who gathered in a suburb of Baghdad.
The protesters, mostly young men, were scattered in side streets near Sadr City, the Associated Press news agency reported. Troops blocked the main road preventing them from advancing and fired above the protesters’ heads. Ducking, the protesters piled over one another taking cover behind a short wall.
The protests come despite calls from Abdul Mahdi for the demonstrators to stay off the streets.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s cabinet issued a series of reforms after an “extraordinary” session overnight in response to the sweeping anti-government rallies.
The cabinet issued a decree including more than a dozen planned reforms, including land distributions, military enlistment and increased welfare stipends for needy families, the AFP news agency reported.
In response to staggering youth unemployment, which has reached about 25 percent according to the World Bank, the government said it would create large market complexes and boost benefits for those without work.
The number of people killed during the five days of violent protests in Iraq is now 105, according to the country’s Observatory for Human Rights.
The government has officially designated those killed as “martyrs”, granting their families a special set of benefits.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said fresh clashes took place on the capital’s outskirts with security forces firing tear gas and live ammunition at protesters as they attempted to push into the city’s central Tahrir Square.
“What we’ve seen and heard here in Baghdad in the early hours of the morning is clashes between security forces and protesters in the outskirts,” Khan said.
“Beyond the protest movement, there is also a political crisis brewing. The year-old government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is facing its biggest challenge yet.”
“There was supposed to be an emergency parliamentary session on Saturday [but] that did not happen. The speaker of parliament then announced his support for the protesters in a news conference. Many people are calling for new elections to take place.”
Unknown assailants attacked the offices of several television stations in Baghdad, the Associated Press reported.
The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel said masked gunmen, who arrived in black cars wearing black clothes, stormed the offices of the television station, attacked some employees and smashed equipment before fleeing the scene.
Majed Hamid, the channel’s correspondent in Baghdad, said several colleagues were injured. He added that the station had been receiving threats for several days.
Gunmen also attacked the offices of Iraq’s Dajla and NRT news channels in Baghdad, according to employees at the stations. Both of those stations are privately owned.
The top United Nations official in Iraq denounced the violence during protests that has killed nearly 100 people across the country and wounded thousands of others, saying it “must stop”.
“Five days of reported deaths and injuries; this must stop,” Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the special representative of the UN secretary-general in Iraq, said in a post on Twitter.
“Those responsible for violence should be held to account,” she added.
Deeply saddened by the senseless loss of life. Five days of reported deaths and injuries: this must stop. I call on all parties to pause and reflect. Those responsible for violence should be held to account. Let the spirit of unity prevail across #Iraq
— Jeanine Hennis (@JeanineHennis) October 5, 2019
According to Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights, 99 people have been killed and nearly 4,000 wounded since the protests erupted on Tuesday.
Iraqi officials said at least five more protesters were shot and killed in anti-government demonstrations that raged in four neighbourhoods in Baghdad, bringing the day’s death toll to 14, the Associated Press reported.
The medical and police officials told AP two protesters were killed in the western Baghdad neighbourhood of Shula when security opened fire on rallies after dark. The officials said two more protesters were killed in the area near Tahrir Square, where they have been under fire from security forces, bringing the toll there to nine.
In the southern suburb of Zaafaraniyeh, one more protester died of his wounds, according to a medical official there cited by AP, bringing the area’s death toll to two. One protester was also killed in the southern city of Diwaniyah where protesters marched on local government’s offices, the AP reported.
The speaker of Iraq’s parliament, Mohamad al-Halbousi, met representatives of protesters in an apparent bid to defuse the political crisis.
Al-Habousi told those gathered that the government would look to roll out a series of measures to curb corruption and revive Iraq’s economy, including lending money to small businesses and creating new jobs.
Al Jazeera’s Khan said the meeting felt like a “campaign rally”.
“It felt like he [al-Halbousi] was manoeuvring himself into an election that may well come,” Khan added.
Iraqi officials and a member of the country’s semi-official human rights commission said thousands of protesters had taken to the streets in two southern cities and set fire to political party offices, the AP reported.
An Iraqi security official and the rights commission official told AP protesters in Nasiriya had set ablaze the offices of two political parties in the restive southern city. The two officials said the security forces responded with fire, but there was no immediate word on casualties. The officials described the protest as “very large”.
In another southern city, Diwaniyah, protesters marched towards local government offices, AP reported. There were no reports of violence there.
Al Jazeera’s Khan said an emergency session of parliament scheduled for Saturday afternoon did not take place after a number of key politicians failed to show up for the meeting.
“Three major blocs decided they were going to boycott that session because they said the government didn’t have an agenda it could implement so therefore it was not worth going to the meeting,” Khan said.
“There is a political crisis now brewing.”
As protests continued to pulsate throughout Baghdad, some of those demonstrating shared their demands and concerns.
Read more here.
Five people were killed in new clashes between protesters and police in Baghdad, police and medical sources told the Reuters news agency.
The fresh unrest followed days of violence around anti-government protests that have hit the Iraqi capital and other cities dotted throughout the country’s south this week.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan took to the streets of Baghdad to gauge the depths of Iraq’s ongoing political crisis.
Read more here.
Iraqi officials said one protester was killed and 17 others wounded as security forces fired on anti-government protesters to disperse renewed demonstrations in Baghdad, the first after a two-day curfew was lifted early on Saturday morning.
Al Jazeera’s Khan said the situation in the city remained “tense”.
“We are getting reports that protesters are gathering in small numbers in the streets … but whether they’ll be able to get that critical mass and march on Tahrir Square remains to be seen,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s Khan said an emergency session of parliament scheduled for Saturday afternoon was now “unlikely” to take place.
“That emergency session was supposed to begin at 1pm (10:00 GMT) local time, it’s now just after 4pm local time (13:00 GMT) and they haven’t been able to get enough MPs to begin that session,” Khan said.
“It hasn’t been cancelled as of yet, however, it’s unlikely the session will take place according to politicians that we have spoken to,” he added.
“A lot of political parties have decided to boycott the session because they say this government is ineffectual and doesn’t have an agenda and therefore it’s a waste of time to be at this political session.”
The death toll from mass protests in Baghdad and cities across southern Iraq rose to 93, the semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights said.
Nearly 4,000 others have been wounded, according to the commission, which is affiliated with Iraq’s parliament. It was not immediately clear whether the latest deaths were from Friday’s huge protests or fresh demonstrations on Saturday.
Despite the lifting of the government-imposed curfew, riot police blocked Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the focal point of protests, local news agencies said.
Shoppers trickled back onto the streets to buy vegetables and other perishable goods the price of which had doubled since the protests began.
Municipal street cleaners set about clearing the detritus of the four days of running clashes between protesters and security forces, which has seen breeze blocks and burning tyres strewn across major thoroughfares.
An onlooker who ventured out, Abu Salah, 70, was not convinced the protests were over.
“If living conditions don’t improve, the protesters will be back,” he told AFP.
The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reported that the death toll had increased to 73, including six members of the security forces, with more than 3,000 others injured.
A total of 540 demonstrators have been arrested, of whom nearly 200 remain in custody, the commission added.
Al Jazeera’s Khan, reporting after the curfew was lifted from Baghdad on Saturday, said that while there were still protesters out in the streets, they were not gathering in the numbers witnessed during previous days.
“There was an incredible amount of criticism from all aspects of Iraqi society when the curfew was brought into place,” he said.
“It was never a long-term, short-term or even medium-term solution to Iraq’s crisis. The government had little choice but to actually lift it so they can get Baghdad moving.”
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered the lifting of a government-enforced curfew in Baghdad by 5am local time (02:00 GMT) on Saturday, state media reported.
It was not immediately clear if curfews put in place in other cities throughout Iraq over the ongoing unrest would also be lifted.
Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition had won the largest number of seats in last year’s elections, called for the government to resign and for a snap election to be held, a statement from his office said.
The fresh polls should be monitored by international experts, the statement added.
Al-Sadr had earlier urged legislators to suspend their parliamentary membership and boycott sessions until the government responds to the protesters’ demands.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on security forces and protesters to exercise restraint.
“The use of firearms by security forces must be a measure of last resort and only to protect against an imminent threat to life,” Katharina Ritz, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Iraq, said in a Twitter post.
“We call on all for restraint,” she added.
I am concerned by the growing number of casualties at the ongoing protests across #Iraq.
The use of firearms by security forces must be a measure of last resort and only to protect against an imminent threat to life.
We call on all for restraint. https://t.co/h7oP4Qlx2w
— Katharina Ritz (@KRitzICRC) October 4, 2019
The death toll since protests began on Tuesday had reached 65, the Reuters news agency reported, citing security and medical sources. The vast majority of the deaths occurred in the last 24 hours as violence accelerated amid continued demonstrations.
The Associated Press meanwhile put the death toll at 53 after medical and security officials said 11 protesters were killed during protests in Baghdad.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify either set of figures.
Al Jazeera’s Khan said the speaker of Iraq’s parliament, Mohamad al-Halbousi, had expressed support for the protesters’ demands.
“He [al-Halbousi] has taken the side of the protesters, he’s saying the government has failed and needs to put in reforms right now,” Khan said.
“There seems to be a lot of anger towards the government, but it’s also coming not just from the protesters but from the parliament itself,” Khan added. “But this government is only a year old and these problems are a lot older than that.”
Khan also said authorities’ appeals for calm appeared to have failed, with protesters out on the streets of the capital in defiance of a government-enforced curfew.
Iraqi security forces said “unidentified snipers” killed four people in Baghdad on the fourth successive day of anti-government protests.
A statement said two of those killed were members of the security forces and the other two were civilians.
The killings bring the death toll since protests began on Tuesday to 44, including six security forces, according to police and medical sources.
Protesters stormed the provincial council in Diwaniyah in southern Iraq, according to a police officer.
“Hundreds of demonstrators stormed provincial council’s building after violent clashes with security forces,” Police Lieutenant Jassim al-Tamimi told Anadolu Agency.
Dozens of protesters were reportedly wounded by gunfire and police forces were also injured after demonstrators threw stones at them.
The police officer said: “There are unconfirmed reports of deaths among the demonstrators as a result of the clashes.”
Shia leader al-Sadr urged legislators to suspend their parliamentary membership and boycott sessions until the government responds to the protesters’ demands.
“Hurry to suspend your membership without delay,” he said in a statement issued before a parliamentary session on Saturday.
Al Jazeera’s Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said “there is already controversy over what’s going to be discussion” at the emergency session and “what impact it might have on the protesters”.
Al Jazeera’s Khan said the curfew was having a “huge impact” on residents’ lives.
Khan cited a statement by the Iraqi Human Rights Commission, which said the prices of food and fuel were rising due to the measures.
“It’s asking the Iraqi government to try and lift some of the restrictions or at least to try and send food trucks to areas where there is a curfew,” Khan said.
“The curfew is being adhered to by most sections of society apart from protesters who still gather in parts of Baghdad,” he added.
“What we’ve seen so far is them gathering in different parts of the city, but they’re all looking towards the focal point, which is Tahrir Square in central Baghdad and that’s where they’ll march. We’re expecting that after dark, we will see more of the scenes we’ve been seeing over the last couple of days.”
Nechirvan Barzani, president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, addressed the unrest, saying the situation in Baghdad was being monitored.
In a statement, Barzani said peaceful demonstrations are a constitutional right but should not lead to chaos and disorder.
Iraq’s dollar-denominated sovereign debt fell 1.2 cents to a four-month low amid the unrest in the country.
The 2028 issue dropped to as little as 95.14 cents – the lowest level in four months, according to data from Refinitiv. The bonds have fallen more than two cents since the start of the week.
Kuwait and Bahrain called on their citizens to avoid trips to Iraq due to the protests and advised those who are there to leave the country immediately.
Earlier, Qatar issued a similar advisory.
The UN called on Iraq to rapidly and transparently investigate force used by anti-riot police in clashes with protesters that have left dozens dead.
“We call on the Iraqi government to allow people to freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Marta Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN rights office, told journalists in Geneva.
“We are worried by reports that security forces have used live ammunition and rubber bullets in some areas, and have also fired tear gas canisters directly at protesters,” Hurtado said, insisting that in dealing with demonstrations, “the use of force should be exceptional”.
“Any use of force must comply with applicable international human rights norms and standards,” she said, stressing that firearms should never be used “except as a last resort to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
“All incidents in which the actions of security forces have resulted in death and injury should be promptly, independently and transparently investigated,” she said.
Iraq’s top Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged security forces and protesters not to use violence and criticised Iraqi leaders for failing to eradicate corruption
He has called on the Iraqi government to heed the protesters’ demands “before it is too late”.
In a letter read out by his representative Ahmed al-Safi during a sermon in the holy city of Karbala, al-Sistani described the deaths from the protests as “sorrowful”, and maintained that the government has not “achieved anything on the ground”.
“Lawmakers hold the biggest responsibility for what is happening,” al-Sistani said.
He also said the government “must do what it can to improve public services, find work for the unemployed, end clientelism, deal with the corruption issue and send those implicated in it to prison”.
In Friday Prayer sermon, Ayatollah Sistani condemns attacks on peaceful protesters and security forces. He hopes everyone understands the dangerous consequences of violence and criticises the government, parliament and judiciary for failing to deliver real reform. #IraqProtests
— Hayder al-Khoei (@7ayder87) October 4, 2019
The death toll from three days of anti-government protests in Iraq climbed to 44, police and medical sources told Reuters.
The largest number of casualties occurred in the southern city of Nasiriya, where 18 people were killed, followed by the capital Baghdad where the death toll stood at 16, they said.
The protests, in which hundreds of people have also been injured, began over unemployment and poor services but have escalated into calls for a change of government and pose one of the country’s biggest security challenges in years.
Qatar’s foreign ministry advised its citizens not to travel to Iraq and urged those already there to leave immediately in view of ongoing unrest.
Iraqi security forces opened fire on dozens of protesters gathering in Baghdad for the fourth day of demonstrations against corruption, unemployment and poor public services.
“These protesters have now been dispersed to neighbouring streets and there are running battles taking place,” said Al Jazeera’s Khan.
Abdul Mahdi said there was “no magic solution” to Iraq’s problems but pledged to work on laws granting poor families a basic income, provide alternative housing, and fight corruption.
Read more here.