Not great news for those who had hoped that the institutions of democracy would allow for a less destructive ways of dealing with popular unrest in the Middle East. It’s also not great news for those who had hoped that American training of Iraqi security forces would mean better tactics and strategy. Iraqi forces opened fire on a crowd in Baghdad that refused to disperse on the “Day of Rage” sweeping the region, leaving 19 dead and putting the fragile political coalition that finally formed a government at risk of falling apart:
MSNBC’s report says six dead, but the latest report from the Washington Post puts the total at 19:
At least 19 people were killed in Iraq on Friday as tens of thousands defied an official curfew to join a nationwide “Day of Rage,” echoing protests that have roiled the Middle East and North Africa since January.
Despite pleas by the government and Shiite religious leaders for Iraqis to stay home, demonstrators gathered by the hundreds and thousands from Basra in the south to Mosul and Kirkuk in the north. …
Security forces used tear gas, water cannons, sound bombs and at times live bullets to disperse the crowds. Fatalities were reported in Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit and a town near Kirkuk, when security forces opened fire on demonstrators who were surrounding–or in some cases storming–government buildings. There were also clashes in Ramadi.
In the southern province of Basra, about 10,000 demonstrators forced the resignation of the provincial governor. In Fallujah, protesters forced the resignation of the entire city council.
The Iraqi government had declared an “indefinite” curfew, apparently in an attempt to head off the protests. The decision backfired badly. Instead of allowing Iraqis to peacefully demonstrate, it provoked a deeper reaction and immediately put security forces into conflict with demonstrators.
The mounting fatalities will put the US in a tough position. The US appears ready to finally demand that Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi step down, in no small part because his security forces (especially mercenaries) have been firing on demonstrators for the last several days, and it produced a civil war. Obama had also demanded the “transition” of nominal US ally Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt. In Iraq, however, the US has tens of thousands of troops stationed outside of the cities and has tried mightily to shepherd the nascent Iraqi democracy into maturity. Obama will almost certainly get challenged to respond to the actions of the Nouri al-Maliki government, and Obama will have several choices in whether and how to do so — all of them bad.