Iraq protests: Death toll nears 100 as unrest enters fifth day

Iraqi men carry the coffin of a demonstrator, who was killed during anti-government protests, at a funeral in Najaf, Iraq October 5, 2019Image copyright

The death toll from ongoing anti-government protests in Iraq has risen to almost 100, according to the country’s parliamentary human rights commission.

It also said more than 3,000 people had been injured.

The authorities have tried to control the demonstrations – which began five days ago – with curfews and a near-total internet blackout.

On Saturday, riot police blocked major meeting points in Baghdad.

The protests are seen as the first major challenge to Mr Mahdi’s fragile government, nearly a year since he came to power.

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An emergency session of parliament was scheduled for Saturday, but there are doubts as to whether this will go ahead.

Demonstrators say they are taking a stand against unemployment, poor public services and corruption.

What’s the latest?

Authorities lifted the daytime curfew in Baghdad on Saturday, and smaller groups of protesters began to renew their action.

Reuters news agency reported that five people had been killed in the latest clashes, citing police and medical sources.

The city’s Tahrir Square has been the focal point of protests, but it was blocked on Saturday, according to local news agencies.

The violence has also affected majority Shia Muslim areas in the south, including Amara, Diwaniya and Hilla. A number of deaths were reported on Friday in the southern city of Nasiriya, about 320km (200 miles) away.

A total of 540 protesters have been arrested, of whom nearly 200 remain in custody, the rights commission said.

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Why is this happening now?

Corruption, unemployment and poor public services are at the heart of the discontent faced by young Iraqis today. The unrest began spontaneously with no formal leadership in mostly Shia areas in the south, and quickly spread.

Iraq has the world’s fourth-largest reserves of oil, but 22.5% of its population of 40 million were living on less than $1.90 (£1.53) a day in 2014, according to the World Bank. One in six households has experienced some form of food insecurity.

The unemployment rate was 7.9% last year, but among young people it was double that. And almost 17% of the economically active population is underemployed.

Unemployment in Iraq

Modelled ILO estimates, %

The country is also struggling to recover after a brutal war against the Islamic State group, which seized control of large swathes of the north and west in 2014.

Living conditions remain dire in many conflict-affected areas, with insufficient services.

Media captionIraqi anti-government protesters defy an open-ended curfew