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 Nature of Government: 'They Have Stolen Everything From Us': Iraq's Anti-Government Protests Continue

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Nature of Government: 'They Have Stolen Everything From Us': Iraq's Anti-Government Protests Continue Vide
PostSubject: Nature of Government: 'They Have Stolen Everything From Us': Iraq's Anti-Government Protests Continue   Nature of Government: 'They Have Stolen Everything From Us': Iraq's Anti-Government Protests Continue Icon_minitimeWed Nov 06, 2019 7:12 pm

Essa, 23, shakes a can of red spray paint, crouches over the sidewalk near Baghdad's Tahrir Square and scrawls something shocking about Iran's supreme leader.

"Khamenei is an ass," it reads.

Nature of Government: 'They Have Stolen Everything From Us': Iraq's Anti-Government Protests Continue Baghdad_protest_2_custom-c6dbfa0e07e3cfdfcab6ddbe7f3d7cc2e9c097c5-s800-c85

The insult to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spray painted without fear, would have been unimaginable before anti-government protests swept from Iraq's southern coast to its capital in the past month. Demonstrators accuse Iran and Iran-backed politicians of of controlling Iraq and harming the country's interests. Iran has strong links to Iraqi security and intelligence forces, and even perceived insults have led to threats.

Essa says he's not afraid. He has nothing to lose. He's a laborer but he has no work. And like most of the protesters, he blames their entrenched poverty on corrupt Iraqi politicians who put other countries' interests first.

The protests, the biggest since 2003, have shaken the foundations of the Iraqi government. More than 250 protesters have been killed and thousands more wounded since the demonstrations began in early October, demanding jobs and better public services.

Roads are blocked and schools shut down. Many Iraqis fear an even bigger confrontation could occur between protesters and government security forces that include Iran-backed former militia members.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a year into his job, has promised to resign after a successor is named. Iraq's President Barham Salih has called for early elections after parliament passes a new election law. The reforms could potentially reduce the number of members of parliament, who are seen as raking in huge salaries, though many rarely show up for sessions.

But the anger runs much deeper among protesters than a disdain for the Iraqi parliament.

"We came here prepared to die because after the fall of [Saddam Hussein's] regime, we haven't seen anything good," says Mahmoud, who came to a protest last week with a group of friends from a city north of Baghdad. "Parliament is just mafias and corrupt parties — all of them came to destroy this country," he says referring to politicians who returned to govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein was toppled after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

NPR is using protesters' first names because hundreds have been arrested and some kidnapped for participating in the past month's peaceful demonstrations.

Yasser, an off-duty Iraqi army soldier who has joined the protests, lifts his pant leg to show a mass of scar tissue. Wounded in 2013, at the beginning of Iraq's battle against ISIS, he says he paid the cost of all his medical operations himself.

Iraq is one of the biggest oil producers in the world. But tens of millions live in poverty. Across the country, failing public services and rampant corruption leave citizens paying bribes for everything from having paperwork processed at government ministries to getting a job.

"They have stolen everything from us — they have stolen even our dreams," says Baraq, a university student who has wrapped an Iraqi flag around his shoulders and holds a white plastic rose he says symbolizes the peaceful protest.

The protests started with young men and then widened to include women and families, turning Tahrir Square into a flag-waving street party. But the demonstrators remain overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly in their 20s or late teens — the first generation to have grown up with Internet and without Saddam Hussein.

Previous protests in central Iraq were Sunni-led, railing against sectarian policies by the Shiite-led government. But in the current protests in Baghdad and the south, demonstrators are largely Shiite — and most reject sectarian divides, saying the important thing is that Iraq is governed by and for Iraqis. The protesters even include active-duty soldiers or fighters with Iran-backed paramilitaries. Some protesters are as young as in their mid-teens.

"At that age, you don't come from a past. There is no past," says Laith Kubba, an independent adviser to the government who was part of the opposition to Saddam Hussein, starting when he was a teenager. "The only thing you have is the present and the future. ... These young people just look to the future and say, 'There is no future with you.' It's very simple. And whatever you do to them, that message will just get stronger and louder."

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/05/776051741/they-have-stolen-everything-from-us-iraqs-anti-government-protests-continue

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