Protests are raging in Iraq. In a country devastated by war and terrorism, the people found the strength to stand up against their government. Protesters demonstrate against a lack of proper public services, a poor job market, and high rates of poverty. Iraqi’s government has a lengthy history of neglecting its citizens, and they’ve finally had enough. As the fires continue to rage, the government has placed restrictions and curfews in hopes to prevent people from planning organized protest assemblies.
The Turmoil in Iraq
Protests began in early October, and the death toll has continued to rise. Citizens, almost exclusively male due to the country’s archaic theocratical laws surrounding women, took to the streets to question government corruption and demand better social support systems. Protests lasted for approximately four days before authorities began to use lethal force on protesters.
Tear gas and rubber bullets were used by security forces to control masses of protesters, but things took a turn when live rounds entered the mix. Suspicions that government backed independent militias acted to control crowds by sniping protesters seem to be confirmed, and Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani seems to be the only figurehead demanding a full report on who these people were and where they received their directives.
The confirmed death toll stands at a minimum of 110, although reporting out of Iraq cannot necessarily be guaranteed as accurate. Sources say approximately 6,000 people have been seriously wounded. These numbers may be significantly higher.
Iraqi Internet Censorship
Oddly enough, Iraq’s government hasn’t done much to censor the internet. They’ve not taken much of an interest in it, as only 17% of the population has regular or predictable access to the internet (latest figures from 2013 research). Primarily, the internet is used by the government and by businesspeople.
It’s also likely that overt censorship restrictions needn’t be placed on the internet because so many other things are censored, restricted, or banned. Since so much content isn’t allowed in Iraq, it goes without saying that utilizing the internet to find that material or bring it into the country would be an offense under laws that already exist.
The Internet Curfew In Iraq
For the few citizens who have access to the internet, their time has been limited. Iraq has temporarily placed internet curfews in areas where smaller, localized protests have developed. With large scale protests taking place on a daily basis, data and testing has confirmed that the internet shuts off at 5 PM Baghdad time, only to be restored at 7 AM. The internet works during business hours, and that’s it.
The government has been turning off the internet in a response to protest. Even when the internet is working, Iraqi people report that they cannot access the internet (and therefore also social media platforms) from their mobile phones at any time of day. The reasoning behind curfew and restricted access is simple. The government doesn’t want correspondence between protesters to be easy or widespread, as their numbers place security forces at a disadvantage, even when lethal weapons are used.
The Protests Have Calmed, but the People Have Not
Even with wounded and fallen protesters causing widespread grief and disharmony, the people of Iraq continue to demand what they feel they are owed by their corrupt and incompetent government. On the tail end of the protests, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced that the country would have three days of mourning for those who lost their lives. Even though the protests have ended, internet access has not resumed. Social media is currently still blocked, and most Iraqi people are unable to access the internet from their smartphones. The government has remained tight lipped about when, if at all, they plan to reinstate service for people living outside of the independent northern regions of the country. It’s a waiting game where nobody wins.