Iraq is witnessing its largest and deadliest anti-government protests in years. Reportedly lacking any organized leadership, the mass demonstrations first erupted in the capital Baghdad on Oct. 1 and soon spread to other cities and towns. Protesters have been blocking major roads, calling for a civil disobedience and organizing strikes.
Here's a rundown of the ongoing protests:
Why are Iraqis taking to the streets?
Iraqi demonstrators are protesting against the entire ruling class and demanding the end of the political system that has been in force since 2003. Similar to their Lebanese counterparts, Iraqis are condemning corruption and calling for more employment opportunities and better public services. Leaders are widely accused of abusing public funds and enriching themselves as well as the country's elite while failing to provide their people with the most basic of services such as electricity, clean water, and proper infrastructure.
Iraqi demonstrators are particularly criticizing the system known as muhassasa, by which government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas, rather than on merit. Protesters have also called out Iran's increasing influence on Iraqi politics.
Back in 2018, the newly-installed cabinet of technocrats headed by Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi vowed to combat corruption and remedy people's financial woes. However, PM Abdel Mahdi has failed to take any significant measures against the political class.
How violent have the clashes been?
Security personnel has used excessive force and live ammunition in an attempt to quell protests. At least 250 Iraqi protesters have been killed in the past month.
According to a committee tasked by PM Abdel Mahdi to investigate the violent clashes, 149 civilians and eight members of the security forces were killed at protests between Oct. 1 and 6. The committee found that around 70 percent of the deaths resulted from bullet wounds to the head or chest.
The committee alleged that the bloodshed was caused by the "chaos" that erupted after "officers and commanders lost control over their forces during the protests." The committee notably found evidence of sniper fire targeting protesters from inside a building in central Baghdad.
"There were no official orders from the supreme authorities to security forces to open fire towards protesters or use live ammunition at all," the committee stated in its report, as quoted by Reuters.
The Human Rights Watch has also condemned the "inappropriate and highly dangerous" use of teargas cartridges. "The high death toll includes people who took direct hits to the head from teargas cartridges, in numbers that suggest a gruesome pattern rather than isolated accidents," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Apart from the use of lethal force, Iraqi rulers have enforced internet slowdowns and social media blockages and shutdowns, according to Human Rights Watch.
How has the government responded?
Last week, Iraqi President Barham Salih announced PM Abdul Mahdi had agreed to resign as soon as political blocs agree on a successor to replace him. The president also vowed to call for early elections once a new electoral law is drafted and passed.
Vox reported that Iraqi leaders have met with protesters and promised to increase funding for certain services. However, a sense of distrust prevails among protesters, especially in light of the use of force and the internet blockages.
"They don't realize that this time, it's a revolution. And we will stay here until we get rid of all of them - Abdul Mahdi, Salih and the whole parliament," one protester said, according to the Washington Post.
How is the economy holding up?
Iraqi military spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf claimed the mass demonstrations have resulted in losses exceeding $6 billion for Iraq.
Protesters have blocked the Umm Qasr port, a vital terminal for oil, food, and basic goods. United Nations' special representative of the secretary-general for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis, wrote on Twitter that such closures are "causing billions in losses."
Meanwhile, one bank official said that the private sector has incurred losses amounting to $40 million per day due to internet outages, according to The Independent. The source said private banks, mobile phone companies, money transfer service providers, and tourism offices have totaled almost $1.5 billion in losses over the past month.
However, central bank sources admit that the economy is struggling for reasons far beyond the current unrest.