Protests to continue until the regime falls

Moved by a renewed shared of Iraqiness, protesters, young and old, block roads, shut down schools and public offices in the capital and southern cities. The Iranian consulate in Karbala is attacked. The Chaldean patriarch visits protesters in Tahrir Square and donates medical drugs. An ecumenical prayer is held for peace and stability.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The anti-government protests that began on 1st October continue with renewed vigour, following a lull on 24 October.

As a result, roads have been blocked, whilst schools and offices in Baghdad and southern Iraqi cities closed yesterday, first day of the work week.

Students, young people, ordinary Iraqis from different ethnic and religious background are marching together, blocking public services, “until the fall of the regime”.

Since the start of the protests, which are backed by Iraqi Church leaders, 260 people have died and thousands have been wounded.

Chaldean Patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, visited injured protesters, mostly Muslims, in hospital as a sign of solidarity, and donated money for the purchase of medical drugs.

The Patriarchate is closely monitoring the situation and has praised protesters, young and old, united by a shared sense of Iraqiness, for fighting for the future of the country.

On Saturday, the cardinal (pictured) visited Tahrir Square, where he met protesters bringing them medical drugs.

"We have come to express our admiration for these young people who have broken sectarian barriers and re-appropriated the identity of the Iraqi nation,” he said. “We urge the government to listen to their legitimate cry.”

This afternoon, ecumenical prayer for peace and stability are scheduled at Baghdad’s St Joseph’s Cathedral. Meanwhile, calls for civil disobedience are multiplying in the country.

Unions representing teachers, engineers, doctors and lawyers are leading the protest, after proclaiming a general strike that threatens to paralyse schools and public offices in the capital and in the south.

In Baghdad, some young protesters have placed cars across streets to block them, whilst a growing crowd is in Tahrir Square, central location for the protest.

In Kout, south of the capital, Tahsine Nasser, 25, said that “blocking the roads” sends “a message to the government".

"We are telling them that we will stay in the streets until the regime, the thieves and crooks fall,” he explained.

In al-Hilla, Babylon province, most public officials are on strike; schools also closed in Basra, in the south.

In the Shia holy cities of Karbala and Najaf more and more religious school students have joined the protests. The latter are not sectarian, ethnic or religious, but seem to unite participants under the same Iraqi flag.

Goods and vehicles moving to and from the port city at Oum Qasr have also been stopped. This has raised concerns among the authorities because the route is crucial for the supply of goods and fuel.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 “after decades of authoritarianism under the Baath party and confessionalism, Iraqi civil society is being reborn,” said one scholar.

The ongoing peaceful but firm mobilisation is at risk however from a campaign of intimidation and violence that has unfolded over the past few weeks. Some fear the possible intervention by regional or world powers.

Meanwhile, dozens of Iraqi protesters yesterday attacked the Iranian consulate in the Shia holy city of Karbala. After scaling the concrete barriers ringing the building, they replaced the Iranian flag with that of Iraq.

Security forces fired in the air to disperse the protesters who threw stones and burnt tyres around the building. Three deaths have been reported.

Observers are now waiting to see if and how Iran will react.