The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Iraq is under curfew and Internet blackout as government tries to curb protests

Demonstrators walk past burning tires during a curfew in Baghdad, two days after nationwide anti-government protests turned violent. (Wissm Al-Okili/Reuters)

BAGHDAD — Protests flared across Iraq on Thursday as authorities imposed curfews and cut access to the Internet, plunging the country into an information blackout.

As night fell, officials said at least 25 people had died and more than 1,000 were wounded after security forces fired tear gas and bullets into crowds of protesters for a third day and demonstrations continued in southern cities. 

“The hospitals are filling up,” said Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for Iraq’s human rights commission. Many people, he said, were in critical condition.

Iraq’s widening protests have centered on issues that plague everyday life in the oil-rich state, including corruption, poor services and unemployment. For most civilians, there have been few improvements in the two years since Iraqi forces pushed Islamic State militants from major cities, and for many Iraqis, life is getting worse. 

Hundreds wounded in Iraq as police fire tear gas, bullets at protesters

Much of the country woke to an indefinite curfew, declared early Thursday by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Without the Internet, people gathered what news they could by phone, sending the rumor mill swirling

In Baghdad, the violent crackdown appeared only to have drawn out more protestersto the streets. Several thousand demonstrators were gathered in the center of the city Thursday night. Helicopters circled low, hovering over clouds of tear gas as the sound of gunfire rang out. Protesters piled the wounded into carts and drove off in a frantic race to the hospital. 

Haider al-Lami, 29, said he had joined the protests because they appeared to have grown organically, rather than as the result of a call from political parties. “This is an uprising from the people who suffer. It represents them and only them,” he said. “I hope this can reform a broken system.”

Abdul Mahdi’s fragile year-old government has struggled to appoint ministers to key positions and to tackle graft that is siphoning money from public services and into the pockets of politically connected people. The corruption is so severe that economists now call it endemic. In Baghdad, one of the raised signs read: “Enough.”

In a televised speech Thursday night, Abdul Mahdi urged calm and called on lawmakers to support him in reshuffling cabinet posts. There is no “magic solution” to Iraq’s chronic governance problems and graft, he said, but he pledged to try to pass a law granting poor families a basic income, the Reuters news agency reported.

Early Thursday, the U.S.-led coalition reported explosions inside or near the city’s Green Zone, a heavily fortified pocket of land hosting government institutions, embassies and military bases.

“No coalition facility was struck. Coalition troops always reserve the right to defend ourselves; attacks on our personnel will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Army Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a spokesman for the coalition.

Iraqi security forces opened fire and threw tear gas at anti-government protesters in Baghdad on Oct. 3, in clashes which left one child dead. (Video: Reuters)

There were also suggestions that political scores were being settled under the cover of the violence. Security officials reported Thursday that masked gunmen had burst into the house of high-profile activist and cartoonist Hussein Adel Madani, killing him and his wife, Sara Madani. Their 2-year-old daughter survived. 

Iran’s semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported Thursday that the unrest had forced the closure of two border crossings popular with Iranian pilgrims. Gen. Qasem Rezai, a commander of the country’s border guards, said the Khosravi and Chazbeh crossings had been closed the night before. 

Loveluck reported from London.

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Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

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