By Amina Ismail
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A few hundred Iraqis gathered in Baghdad’s central Tahrir square on Thursday to mark the anniversary of anti-government unrest that erupted last year and to put pressure on the authorities to meet their demands.
Protesters waved the Iraqi flag and chanted “free revolutionaries, we will continue the path.”
Some sang patriotic songs while clapping.
“We are here to start the revolution again…We haven’t forgotten about the blood of the martyrs,” said Abbas Younis, 25, wearing an Iraqi flag as a cape and a surgical mask.
More than 560 people, mostly unarmed demonstrators but also some members of the security forces, have been killed since a spate of popular unrest began on Oct. 1, 2019, with both security forces and unidentified gunmen shooting people dead.
London-based Amnesty International called on the Iraqi government on Thursday to do more to “deliver justice to the hundreds killed in the course of exercising their right to peaceful assembly.
“Find the missing, deliver justice for lives lost,” it said.
Protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty.
The protests have shaken the country out of two years of relative calm following the defeat of Islamic State insurgents.
Infighting between political parties clinging to power has fuelled the crisis and threatens to kindle more unrest.
Last year’s protests caused the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who was replaced in May by Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who pledged to investigate the deaths and incarceration of hundreds of protesters.
Demonstrators on Thursday gave the government until Oct. 25 to meet their demands by Oct. 25 or face a general strike.
“Our demands are simple and legitimate…We demand the killers of the protesters be prosecuted,” said Mustafa Makki.
Dressed in combat trousers and wearing a shirt with an image of a slain protester and a necklace made out of an empty tear gas canister, the 24-year-old said he had four bullet wounds, and one of them had cost him his vision in his left eye.
Later on Thursday, dozens took to the streets in the southern cities of Diwaniyah and Najaf, waving the Iraqi flag and carrying photographs of demonstrators killed last year.
Kadhimi in July called an early general election for June 6, 2021, roughly a year ahead of when it would normally be held, a central demand of the protesters. But Iraqi’s parliament must still ratify the election date and amend the election law.
Kadhimi and President Barham Salih pledged to meet the demands of the protesters. “We affirm our loyalty to our people and to the roadmap imposed by the blood and scarifies of its youth,” Kadhimi said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Charlotte Bruneau, Alaa al-Marjani in Najaf and Imad al-Khuzaie in Diwaniya; editing by David Evans and Mark Heinrich)