Anti-government protesters and security forces clashed in Baghdad on Sunday, January 26, as security forces attempted to dislodge encamped demonstrators in the capital and elsewhere across the country. While Tahrir Square, a primary anti-government demonstration site in Baghdad, remained relatively calm on Sunday, security forces fired tear gas and live bullets at demonstrators around the periphery of the site as protesters threw Molotov cocktails and stones at them. At least 14 demonstrators were wounded in the clashes, according to medical and security sources. Sunday's clashes notably follow Shi'a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's decision on Saturday, January 25, to withdraw his protection for the protesters and end his involvement in the months-long anti-government demonstrations.
A heightened security presence and disruptions to transportation and business are to be expected in protest-affected areas over the coming hours. Further demonstrations and subsequent clashes between protesters and security forces are expected over the coming days.
Tensions have increased in Iraq since the US killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike near Baghdad International Airport (BGW) 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, 2019, to protest alleged government corruption, inadequate provision of public services, and a lack of job opportunities. Following weeks of relatively calm demonstrations, violence resumed on October 24-25, coinciding with the deadline issued by Grand Ayatollah Sistani to the government issuing them to produce a report on the members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) that were responsible for firing at civilians during previous demonstrations. An estimated 669 people have been killed and some 24,488 people have been wounded since the 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.
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.