IIranian security forces and paramilitaries fire on crowds of protesters to try to drive them out of central Baghdad and end six weeks of demonstrations that challenge the political system to a degree never seen since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 .
The police took over three bridges over the Tigris River that lead to the fortified green zone on Saturday and surround Tahrir Square, the center of the protest.
In al-Rasheed Street, near the square, police set fire to tents set up by volunteer doctors to treat injured protesters.
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According to Amnesty International, at least six people have been killed in recent clashes, including four shots and two with heavy tear gas grenades.
According to the report, 264 people who took part in the protests have died since 1 October, although the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reports a higher figure of 301 dead and 15,000 wounded.
The demonstrations – and the ruthless attempt of the government to eliminate them – pose the greatest threat to the power of the Iraqi political establishment since Isis was heading to Baghdad in 2014. In many ways, the danger to the status quo is greater now, since Isis is an existential threat to the Shia majority who had no choice but to support its ruling elite, as predatory and incompetent as it has proven in the past. 39, exercise of his functions.
The massacre of so many protesters is similar to the tactics used by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013 to suppress demonstrations that opposed his coup d'etat that overthrew the elected government.
In contrast, the street protests in Baghdad in 2016, during the invasion of the Green Zone by protesters, or in Basra in 2018, when the government and party offices were set on fire, did not not aroused violence.
For a month and a half, however, snipers have been shooting randomly at protesters or targeting local demonstrators. Those who kill are part of the highly fragmented security services of the government and factions of the paramilitary group Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (FMP) whose alignment with Iran is known.
It is the Iranian leadership, and in particular General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the al-Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards and supreme Iranian regional politician, who are orchestrating the campaign to break up the demonstrations with continued violence. .
The reason why General Qasem Soleimani decided to do so is a mystery, as the initial demonstration on Tahrir Square on October 1st was small.
The nongovernmental organizations that organized it had failed for months.
It is the authorities' unprecedented policy of "killing to kill" that turned these unwelcome gatherings into a mass movement not far from a general uprising.
During the first days of the demonstrations, the organizers of the demonstration L & # 39; Independent they were initially confused by what had happened and felt that the first day of violence, at least 10 deaths, could be an overreaction that would not happen again.
But the killing of protesters, as counterproductive as it is, has continued.
The day after the first shot, you could see groups of young protesters, seeming very little intimidated, walking around the area. Authorities further aggravated the crisis by introducing a 24-hour curfew and shutting down the Internet, a collective punishment of 7 million people in Baghdad, which could only support the protesters.
At the same time, paramilitary groups open to loyalty to Iran sent their black-clad militants into the television channels to announce the demonstrations and destroy their equipment and studios. They assaulted injured protesters in hospitals and kidnapped and threatened journalists, doctors and anyone else supporting the protests.
It is unlikely that it is a pre-organized plot by pro-Iranian paramilitaries acting on their own initiative.
Several of their leaders, later learned that groups had provided snipers to shoot at the street demonstrations, were interrogated by L & # 39; Independent Few days ago.
Although they then stated that they had long detected a deep conspiracy from the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to use the demonstrations to overthrow the political system in Iraq, they did not say it at the time. Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a powerful paramilitary faction, said that "Iran wants a solution [in the US-Iran confrontation] but he can not say that himself. "
He downplayed the idea that an American-Iranian war was on the cards.
Abu Ala al-Walai, the head of Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, said in a separate interview that what concerned him most was an Israeli drones attack against a weapons deposit in one of his bases on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Nevertheless, the speed and cohesion with which these pro-Iranian Shiite paramilitary groups reacted – or overreacted – to the demonstrations suggests a detailed emergency plan.
"Iranians still have a plan," notes an Iraqi commentator.
The paramilitaries did not act alone: no separate demarcation line separates the PMF from the state security institutions. The Iraqi government pays the PMF's salaries to about 85,000 people, whose president is Faleh al-Fayyad, the government's adviser on national security.
The interior minister still belongs to the Iran-backed Badr organization, and his emergency intervention division, for example, reportedly provided snipers to shoot protesters.
Since the first peaceful march has been extremely violent, repression has intensified in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
One day in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, snipers killed 18 people and survivors were stopped by checkpoints as they fled into the alleys.
Kidnappings, disappearances, intimidations – a whole repressive device – have been put in place and will probably not be dismantled.
Pro-Iranian individuals and institutions in favor of the status quo in the Iraqi political system are becoming increasingly dominant.
Critics of the status quo, like populist nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition is the largest group in parliament, have been silent.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Friday urged security forces to refrain from resorting to "excessive force", but there is no suggestion that this has any impact whatsoever.
Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi Prime Minister for the past year, has emerged from the crisis seemingly ineffective.
The Iraqi political class as a whole has clearly decided to suppress the demonstrations in order to preserve its interests.
The protesters on the streets – the radicalism whose claims and the vagueness as to how to achieve them look like French students from the events of 1968 in France – are not able to say what they would put in place of the government corrupt and dysfunctional current. As for those who practice the repression, they are so stained with blood that it will be impossible for them to reverse the course, without showing the slightest sign of wanting to do it.