Iraq Protests: Everything We Know So Far as Death Toll Rises

The Iraqi government is cracking down on increasingly violent political protests that erupted across the country Tuesday. Varying reports put the death count between 19 and 21 on Thursday, as the government issued a round-the-clock curfew and restricted internet and social media access.

Curfews were imposed on the capital, Baghdad, as well as other cities scattered across the country. Internet connectivity fell to 70 percent and major social media cites such as Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Instagram were blocked according to NetBlocks, an independent digital inclusivity activist organization.

Al Jazeera correspondent Imran Khan reported that the curfews are generally working. "The protesters have been trying to gather in different areas of Baghdad throughout the day, but every time they reach crowds of 50 to 60 people, the security forces disperse them. The government hasn't indicated when the curfew will be lifted."

Security forces have been employing increasingly violent tactics to dispel crowds, including firing tear gas and live ammunition. This is the second day that such tactics have been used against civilians.

Iraq Protesters October 3
Iraqi men carry a wounded protester during clashes amidst demonstrations against state corruption, failing public services, and unemployment in the Iraqi capital Baghdad's central Tayeran Square on October 3, 2019. Iraqi security forces fired live rounds early Thursday to break up protests held for a third day in Baghdad, an AFP photographer said, despite a curfew in effect since dawn. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/ AFP/Getty

Iraqi security sources reported two blasts at dawn on Thursday in the international area of Baghdad known as the Green Zone. The neighborhood was blocked off over concerns that protesters would target government and embassy located there.

Protests broke out in Tuesday as crowds—predominantly of young people—flooded Baghdad demanding more jobs, an end to government corruption, and more access to social services and utilities. This comes after power outages have continually left inhabitants without means to cool down during a scorching summer.

The protests don't appear to have a leadership or any religious or political affiliation, and organized primarily over social media platforms, according to Al Jazeera reports.

Since the onset of the demonstrations, demands have morphed, with many calling for the end of Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi's government.

Over three days, the protests have spread across the country, and have been mostly nonviolent, though according to The Wall Street Journal, protesters did set fire to political party offices in the southern city of Najaf.

Mahdi called for an emergency meeting with the National Security Council on Wednesday to discuss the situation. A resulting statement announced, "The council affirms the right to protest, freedom of expression, and the protesters' legitimate demands, but at the same time condemns the acts of vandalism that accompanied the protests."

The protests present a serious challenge to Mahdi, who was appointed by the president as a compromise candidate in October 2018.

An economist by training, Mahdi has been criticized for failing to improve the economy, to deliver social services consistently or to root out corruption, despite the benefit of resources provided by the country's substantial oil wealth.

The government has drawn criticism from both inside the country and outside for the security forces' handling of the mass demonstrations. According to Al Jazeera, the parliament has ordered an investigation into the violence and criticized the suppression of the demonstrations.

Amnesty International put out a call on Thursday for the Iraqi government to immediately "rein in security forces."