The death toll from renewed anti-government protests in Iraq reached 75 over the weekend, doubling the number killed before the demonstrations slowed down due to a major Shiite Muslim religious holiday.
The Baghdad government began imposing nighttime curfews on Monday and deployed elite counter-terrorist forces to help clear the streets.
The curfew order stated that people and vehicles will not be allowed to move on the streets after 6:00 p.m. local time in the cities of Baghdad and Karbala. The order will remain in effect “until further notice.” A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said there would be punishment for demonstrators who interfere with work or school.
The Baghdad curfew was announced by the military, which has deployed forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) in Baghdad and Nasiriya, another city that has seen exceptionally violent demonstrations.
The CTS acted quickly to surround Tahrir Square in Baghdad, where demonstrators have been meeting up. Complaints of excessive violence were soon lodged against CTS troops.
“Our protests are peaceful, we only have flags and water bottles, but they keep firing bombs at us, firing tear gas at us. What have we done to deserve this? What have we done? The young men who died, what did they do?” one demonstrator asked on Saturday night.
Large numbers of Iraqi students began joining the demonstrators on Sunday despite warnings from Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi. Several schools and universities reportedly shut down so activists could protest on relatively safe campus grounds.
The protesters have not been mollified by Abdul Mahdi’s promises of reform and are increasingly vocal about wishing to bring his entire government down. Unflattering comparisons to the bloody tyranny of Saddam Hussein have become common.
“We weren’t scared of ISIS, so why should we be scared of those thieves?” said a demonstrator who lost his leg fighting against the Islamic State. “They think when they hit us that they’re scaring us, but no: they are actually increasing our determination.”
Four members of the Iraqi parliament have resigned and one of the largest parliamentary blocs is now holding sit-ins to protest Abdul Mahdi’s government, adding to the sense that the prime minister is beginning to lose the struggle to retain his office.