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Thousands gather for demonstrations to mark anniversary of 25 October events

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Thousands of protesters gathered throughout central and southern Iraq on 24-25 October to mark the one-year anniversary of deadly protest events on 25 October 2019, in the effort to revive the October Movement activities. On the evening of 24 October, preparations for the demonstrations were noted at multiple sit-in sites, including Baghdad, Najaf, Nasiriyah, and Basra. Protesters chanted in support for public demands and constructed additional sit-in tents in preparation for anticipated large gatherings. Meanwhile, ISF implemented heightened security measures in the vicinity of sit-in sites, stressing the intent to protect peaceful demonstrations while warning against violence and vandalism.

On 25 October, Commander-in-Chief’s Spokesperson Major General Yahia Rasul called on protesters to remain within the Tahrir Square area. Rasul stressed that security forces had strict orders to take measures against all attempts to attack ISF and protesters, or violate public and private property. On 25 October, the Baghdad Operations Command Intelligence Cell warned that ‘IS militants and outlaws’ intended to target protest squares in Baghdad, warning they may impersonate PMF members in order to force an escalation of violence. On 24 October, security forces claimed a number of suspects carrying knives attempted to enter Tahrir Square.

Casualties reported during altercations between ISF and protesters in central Baghdad:
On the evening of 24 October, hundreds began to arrive at Tahrir Square in central Baghdad city. Meanwhile, ISF implemented heightened security measures in the vicinity, stressing the intent to protect peaceful demonstrations while warning against violence. During the night of 24-25 October, security forces implemented road closures near Abu Nu’as Street, Rasheed Street, and in the vicinity of the International Zone. Sinak and Shuhadaa Bridges were also closed.

On the morning and afternoon of 25 October, thousands of protesters gathered in central Baghdad. Hundreds reportedly arrived from southern provinces by bus, with attempts to stop participants at Baghdad borders reported. Tahrir Square was predictably the epicentre of these events. “Our blood, our souls, we sacrifice for you Iraq,” protesters chanted. Familiar demands included calls for political reforms and prosecution of those involved in killing protesters. “Our demands have not been met. We will continue our protests until we see the change we want,” a protester named as Ali Shimmari said. Despite ISF warnings, large crowds gathered on nearby streets and bridges, including the Jumhuriyah Bridge, Sinak Bridge, Shuhada Bridge, and Khulani Square.

In a later development, confrontations between ISF and protesters were reported at several locations, including Alawi district, Khulani Square and the nearby bridges. Protesters from western Baghdad passed through the Alawi area, north of the International Zone, marching towards Tahrir Square. Protesters reportedly threw rocks and bottles of water towards Law Enforcement elements, but were forced to withdraw towards Tahrir Square. During the afternoon, additional confrontations were being reported on the Jumhuriyah and Shuhadaa Bridges, after protesters attempted to cross towards west Baghdad. Similar clashes occurred on Sinak Bridge, where security forces used controversial tear gas canisters. On the afternoon of 25 October, social media sources were reporting that some protesters attacked ISF with Molotov cocktails on the Jumhuriyah Bridge.

Khulani Square 25 October

Multiple casualties were being reported as a result of these events, with further confrontations likely to be seen during the evening. Commander-in-Chief’s Spokesperson Major General Yahia Rasul claimed that up to 43 ISF members were injured. “The security forces are working to maintain high restraint despite the occurrence of some transgressions which are unacceptable,” he said stressing that “the security forces will continue to perform their duty to maintain security and protect public and private facilities”. Alternative reports indicated that at least 39 individuals, including police officers, were injured in the course of confrontations. This reportedly included seven individuals injured by tear gas canisters. In a positive sign of restraint, no fatalities have been recorded as of writing.

For further discussion and analysis please see the full report.

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