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Three days of protests in Iraq have now resulted in the deaths of 60 demonstrators, many shot by sniper fire.
The violence is the worst since Iraq put down an insurgency by Islamic State two years ago. The protests arose in the south, heartland of the Shi’ite majority, but quickly spread, with no formal leadership.
Security and medical sources gave a death toll on Friday of 60 killed across Iraq in three days of unrest, the vast majority of the deaths in the last 24 hours as the violence accelerated.
“It is sorrowful that there have been so many deaths, casualties and destruction,” Iraq’s most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said in a letter read out by his representative during a sermon. “The government and political sides have not answered the demands of the people to fight corruption or achieved anything on the ground,” said Sistani, who stays out of day-to-day politics but whose word is law for Iraq’s Shi’ites. “Parliament holds the biggest responsibility for what is happening.”
Populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads the largest opposition bloc in parliament, ordered his lawmakers to suspend participation in the legislature until the government introduces a program that would serve all Iraqis.
Many government officials and lawmakers are widely accused of siphoning off public money, unfairly awarding contracts in state institutions and other forms of corruption.
It is suggested that the demonstrators are protesting government corruption. This could easily be true, since bribery, payoffs, embezzlement, etc, are very normal in Arab culture. At the same time, the factionalism that divides Iraq has not gone away, and these demonstrations could be a tactic by the opposition to damage the ruling party. Moqtada al-Sadr (who had been nicknamed “Mookie” by U.S. troops) has a long history of using force for his own political gain. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is behind these protests.