Friday, October 25, 2019

Iraq's Shi'a Protests Resume: Interim Summary

By Samantha Leathley with Brandon Wallace

Key Takeaway: Mass protests resumed in Iraq on Friday, October 25 across Baghdad and multiple Shi’a-majority provinces. Protesters in multiple provincial capitals set fire to political party offices, demonstrating their frustration with the Iraqi government despite its attempts to dampen protests through concessions. Protesters also chanted anti-Iran slogans in multiple provinces and torched the local headquarters of Iranian proxy militias. At least one Iranian proxy, Asai’b Ahl Al Haq (AAH), opened fire on protesters in Maysan Province. Iraq’s highest religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, warned of the potential for foreign intervention in Iraq in his Friday sermon in an indirect reference to Iran. Sistani called for protesters and security forces to remain nonviolent.


Popular protests resumed in the late evening of October 24 in Tahrir Square and near Baghdad’s Green Zone, and spread on October 25. Protesters called for an overthrow of the Iraqi government, chanted anti-Iran slogans, and attempted to enter the Green Zone by removing barriers. Unspecified security forces including masked, black-clad forces repelled demonstrators from the Green Zone by firing tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets into the crowd, killing two and wounding over 60 people. Some reports claim that security forces fired live warning shots.

A contingent of populist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, Saraya al-Salam, is participating in Baghdad demonstrations unarmed, wearing white clothing. Armed Saraya al-Salam forces also deployed to Tahrir Square and Sadr City before the protests began and may still be present. Sadr previously ordered his militia to defend protesters against violence by security forces.

Dhi Qar

Approximately 3,000 demonstrators in the Dhi Qar provincial capital of Nasiriyah broke into and set fire to the Dhi Qar provincial council building, the governor’s office, the department of political prisoners, and the local headquarters of Iranian proxy Katai’b Hezbollah. Demonstrators also chanted anti-Iran slogans. Unconfirmed reports indicate security forces killed at least five demonstrators. It is unclear whether they used live ammunition.


“Thousands” of protesters in the Maysan provincial capital of Amara set fire to the local Dawa Party headquarters and attempted to do the same to the local headquarters of the Iranian proxy Asai’b Ahl Al Haq (AAH). Multiple reports indicate AAH opened fire on protesters in response.


Protesters in the Muthanna provincial capital of Samawah stormed the provincial council building and burned the local headquarters of the independent High Electoral Commission, Dawa Party, National Wisdom Trend, Iranian proxy Badr Organization, AAH, and others. The number of targets in Muthanna could indicate demonstrations in Muthanna are more organized than demonstrations in other provinces.


Protesters in the Wasit provincial capital of Kut burned the local headquarters of the Dawa Party and the Iranian proxy militia Saraya al-Khorasani.


Protesters have burned unspecified buildings near the center of government in Basra City. Unknown militants reportedly conducted a grenade attack on the Basra Provincial Headquarters building. Unspecified security reinforcements have deployed to the Basra government headquarters.


Protesters burned the office of a parliament member, and the local headquarters of political parties to include the Reform Trend and State of Law coalition. Demonstrators reportedly ‘stormed’ the offices of the Basha’ir Movement and attacked the home of Raed al-Jubouri, the Babil provincial council chairman who recently resigned after evidence surfaced that he authorized use of force against protesters. Demonstrators also reportedly stormed the headquarters of AAH and the Virtue Party.

Other Provinces

Demonstrations have also resumed in Najaf, Qadisiyah, and Karbala provinces, according to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani issued new requirements for the Iraqi government to hold security forces responsible for violence against protesters accountable and called for non-violence amidst renewed protests. Sistani released a sermon via proxy on October 25. Sistani stated that the Iraqi government’s investigation into security forces’ violence against demonstrators was insufficient, and issued the Iraqi government a new requirement of forming an independent judicial committee and amending the election law to restore Iraqi citizens’ confidence in the Iraqi government. Sistani warned that violence and counter-violence could allow external actors to ‘settle scores’ in Iraq. Sistani claimed that ‘real reform’ can only be obtained peacefully. Sistani did not include a deadline for this requirement as he did in his prior October 11 sermon. Sistani may have tempered his new statement to avoid both inflaming protests and provoking a security force crackdown. Sistani’s call for non-violent protests is unlikely to dampen them. Unverified video footage of Najaf demonstrations show protesters chanting “listen to the voice of Najaf, forget the voice of Friday lectures,” a dismissal of Ayatollah al-Sistani.

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