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17 Jan 2020 | 12:34 AM UTC

Iraq: Mass protests called for in Baghdad and other cities January 24 /update 95

Religious and militia leaders call for mass protests in Baghdad and other cities to denounce the US presence in Iraq on January 24; smaller, associated rallies possible January 17

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Event

Mass demonstrations are being called for by Muqtada al-Sadr and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Baghdad and other cities across Iraq on Friday, January 24. Sadr is calling for a march against "corruption and occupation" to begin at 09:00 (local time) on January 24 in Baghdad. Social media posts on Wednesday, January 15, also voiced support for simultaneous rallies to be held outside of the US Embassy and military bases associated with American forces. Smaller, preliminary protests may also be held in Baghdad on Friday, January 17, ahead of the main demonstrations the following week.

Anti-government protests may also continue over the coming days, particularly in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Some activists have voiced concerns that the demonstrations organized by Sadr will clash with the ongoing protest movement. However, on Thursday, January 16, Sadr released a statement denying accusations that the protest he is organizing will be in opposition to the current anti-government demonstrations.

A heightened security presence and localized disruptions are anticipated around all protest sites. There is a risk that the demonstrations will escalate and clashes between protesters and security forces are likely. Should these protests go ahead, local sources advise that all non-critical missions are delayed until a clearer picture of the formation and conduct of the demonstrations becomes apparent.

Context

Tensions have increased in Iraq after the US killed Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force, near Baghdad International Airport (BGW) in an airstrike on January 3. Notably, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was also killed in the strike.

Demonstrations broke out in Iraq on October 1 to protest perceived government corruption, inadequate provision of public services, and a lack of job opportunities. Following weeks of relative calm, demonstrations violently resumed on October 24-25, coinciding with the deadline issued by Grand Ayatollah Sistani to the government to produce a report on who in the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) was responsible for firing at civilians during previous demonstrations. An estimated 460 people have been killed and unconfirmed estimates state that over 25,000 people have been wounded since protests began. December 22 was the deadline set by President Barham Salih for Parliament to decide on a prime minister to replace PM Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Advice

Individuals in Iraq are advised to closely monitor the situation, avoid all protests and large public gatherings due to potential violence, prepare for disruptions to transportation and business in areas affected by anti-government demonstrations, and adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities and their home governments.

The security environment in Iraq remains complex. Although travel is possible in some areas with proper security protocols in place, other areas should be considered strictly off-limits. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to all travel.