Thousands of Iraqis gathered in the capital and the country’s south on Thursday, marking the first anniversary of the start of unprecedented protests demanding the fall of the ruling class.
The protests, which lasted months before running out of steam, will be revived, demonstrators said, if no reform is carried out by the current government.
The mass demonstrations across southern Iraq demanded youth employment, functioning public services and the guarantee of transparent elections, in a country beleaguered by corruption and caught in the crossfire of a tug-of-war for influence between the United States and Iran.
One year – and nearly 600 deaths – after the worst social crisis in Iraq’s recent history, the mood in the country is very different.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, appointed in May 2020, has praised the very demonstrations that pushed out the previous government.
State television on Thursday broadcast clips showing photos of the “martyrs” accompanied by the national anthem played on electric guitar.
But in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the Baghdad protests, and in the southern city of Diwaniya, protesters rejected the outstretched hand of the government and various parties, which are preparing for elections scheduled for June.
Protesters waved the Iraqi flag and chanted “free revolutionaries, we will continue the path”. Some sang patriotic songs while clapping.
“The old government and the new one have made a lot of promises, but nothing has happened,” said demonstrator Hassan al-Miyahi in Diwaniya.
Around him, people shouted the main slogan of the Arab Spring uprisings: “The people want the fall of the regime.”
“Today, we remember those who died to take our country back from the thieves,” 28-year-old Ibrahim told AFP news agency in Tahrir Square.
Another Baghdad protester said the demonstration was “a taster”.
“If the government doesn’t act and doesn’t liberate protesters still in detention, our next appointment is set for October 25,” he said.
This year, “if the government doesn’t respond to our demands, we will all go to Baghdad to take the Green Zone”, the high-security area where authorities are based, said Marwan Hamid, a student in Diwaniya.
“We’ll dissolve parliament and form an interim government to put an end to organised corruption and the parties and militias that answer to foreign powers,” he added.
“Our demands are simple and legitimate … we demand the killers of the protesters be prosecuted,” Mustafa Makki told the Reuters news agency.
Wearing a shirt with an image of a killed protester and a necklace made out of an empty tear gas canister, the 24-year-old said he had four bullet wounds, and one of them had cost him the vision in his left eye.
“We will hold a general strike if the government doesn’t meet our demands within 25 days,” Makki added.
In July, PM Kadhimi called an early general election for June 6 next year, roughly a year ahead of when it would normally be held, a key demand of the protesters. But Iraqi’s parliament must still ratify the election date and amend the election law