Protesters have clashed with security forces on Baghdad's Sinak Bridge as of Friday evening (local time), January 17. Iraqi security forces (ISF) have reportedly used water cannons to disperse protesters, resulting in an unspecified number of people seriously wounded; unconfirmed reports claim at least one protester has died. The clashes, ongoing as of 20:00, notably follow a lull in anti-government protest activity observed in Iraq since the end of 2019. A heightened security presence and transportation disruptions are to be expected in the affected area over the coming hours.
Further political demonstrations are to be expected in Baghdad over the near term. Muqtada al-Sadr and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have called for mass demonstrations 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 on January 24 in the capital.
A heightened security presence and localized transportation and business disruptions are to be 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.
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 669 people have been killed and some 24,488 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.
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.