Iraq is currently undergoing the largest revolution it has seen since the 2003 US invasion. Since the beginning of October, millions of Iraqis have marched through the streets of Baghdad demanding for the removal of all corrupt officials from office. The Iraqi Arabic term for this is “Shal’i Kali’, Kulhum Harameya”, which stands for: “from their roots they must be pulled, they are all corrupted.” In response to these protests, the Iraqi government, with the help of Iranian-backed militias, brutally tried to oppress the people by using live ammunition and mortars to disperse the crowd.
I am an Iraqi citizen in pain because I cannot participate in the protests that my country is going through. My body aches for the freedom that we deserve; the basics of human rights. We need water, education, electricity, safety, and most of all, a country where we can control our fate; rather than a puppet of a government controlled by foreign influences. In response to our basic demands, 180 protestors have been killed, and over 6000 have been injured since the beginning of the peaceful protests.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has been actively silencing our voices by using “any means necessary”, even though he emphasized that the people have the right to protest. The government has used mortars, snipers, live ammunition, and expired tear gas to intimidate protesters from speaking out. In some cases, they have been shooting tear gas canisters directly at protesters, crushing their skulls. Security forces have even targeted ambulance and medics who are trying to treat the wounded.
As for the protesters, they come from all over Iraq. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, old people, young people, the educated, and the illiterate are standing side by side against the corrupt regime. In the span of one month, I have never been prouder to call myself an Iraqi. In Freedom Square, in the capital city of Baghdad, protesters have been supplied with food, water, medics, and entertainment. When you first get to the square, you are greeted by boys and girls giving away gas masks in case of a tear gas attack. You walk further into the square, and you’ll meet an old lady making flanked fish and keema (a traditional Shiite dish). If you walk a bit more, you’ll meet a man giving away Arabic Delights, because you need to have some dessert after having lunch. Keep going, and you will see that there are young men and women giving away coffee and tea to wash down the dessert you just had. You will walk some more, and finally meet the medics who are treating the wounded. You walk further and you reach the center of the protest, where there are games, music, and a shared sense of patriotism and loyalty to the country that I call home. If you get hurt or tear gassed, don’t worry— you have men and women splashing Pepsi and Coke on your face to ease the pain. After, they’ll escort you to a “toktok”, a three-wheeled motorcycle, which drives you back to the medics. The medics then help you with your wounds, and off again you go back into the protests.
From the videos that have circulated around the Internet, you see the most heart-breaking scenes. In one video, I saw a mother mourning the death of her 15-year-old son. The boy was shot in the head by “an unknown and unaffiliated” sniper. In another video, you see a father on his knees in front of a picture of his son. The caption below his son’s picture stated “We belong to God, and to God we return to. The Martyr of the Great October Protests.” Saddens flows through the streets of Iraq into the coffins of our Martyrs.
However, through all the sadness in the streets, you have true heroes helping. In Mount Uhud, also known as The Turkish Restaurant, you have people giving away free blankets, food, water, and even hookah. A woman, whose sole income comes from selling small tissue packs, is giving tissues away for free to those who have been hit with tear gas. Another lady is using her walker as a way to carry more Pepsi and Coke to give to protesters. The greatest feat of them all is seeing men and women of different backgrounds, sects, and age, united against corruption. We are united by those who have died for this freedom, we are united against foreign intervention in our government, and we are united because we want a country in control of its own future.