Baghdad Protests Continue

Oct 31, 2019
Originally published on October 31, 2019 11:15 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The anti-government protests in Baghdad are growing. Iraq's prime minister is now expected to resign. What's it like to be watching those protests? Here's NPR's Jane Arraf.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Almost a week into the latest protests in Baghdad, demonstrations in Tahrir Square have almost the feel of a huge house party.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ARRAF: These are mostly young people in their 20s. There's music. There are groups of women and lots of students. Fireworks go up above the shell of a high-rise building taken over by protesters unfurling banners and waving flags. Government security forces are normally deployed to the multi-story parking garage next to it to watch over the square, but protesters have taken that over too.

Almost 150 demonstrators were shot dead by security forces in the first few weeks of October in Baghdad in the south of Iraq. After that, Baghdad authorities deployed riot police without lethal weapons. But protesters are still dying here, hit by teargas canisters. And that's why it's so surprising to find people like Hala Chalabi (ph), a middle-class mom who brought her three daughters here.

HALA CHALABI: It's OK - dangerous. You know, either we live a good life, or we die, right?

ARRAF: And what she means by a good life is jobs, electricity that doesn't go off all the time, public services you don't have to pay bribes to access, a government that isn't corrupt.

Overnight, protesters took over part of a bridge leading to the Iranian embassy and beyond that, the Green Zone. The U.S. embassy is there. In central Baghdad, a lot of shops are shuttered. It almost seems like the city is holding its breath. Thousands of Iraqis who can have left for the safer north of Iraq.

Political parties are meeting to try to agree on who would replace the Iraqi prime minister when he steps down. But protesters don't want the same old faces tied to religious parties or outside interests that have governed Iraq since Saddam Hussein was toppled. They're demanding much more - a new system, one the country's political leaders are unlikely to deliver.

Jane Arraf, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.