450 RALLY AT DOWNTOWN EL CAJON PARK IN SOLIDARITY WITH PROTESTERS IN IRAQ

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Dozens dead, estimates of injured range from 600 to nearly 1,200

Photo: Maryam Deuge and Mina Abdelahad want Iraq to have water, food, electricity, internet and jobs, and an end to widespread corruption

By Jonathan Goetz

October 4, 2019 (El Cajon) - “Over the last 24 hours all these people in Iraq are dying,” Mina Abdelahad told East County Magazine at an impromptu rally yesterday in downtown El Cajon following reports of brutal crackdowns on protesters in Baghdad.

Around 450 protesters gathered in El Cajon, home to tens of thousands of Iraqi immigrants and refugees. The local protesters stand in solidarity with demonstrators in Iraq and decried the violent crackdowns on protesters in Iraq that have injured between 600 and 1,200 people, killing 20 to 30 or more.

Abdelahad shows us graphic pictures on her phone: people carrying dead bodies, a child with a gunshot wound, and protesters weeping over a dead one-year-old girl. As of Thursday, Al-Jazeera put the death toll at 20, the Associated Press 33, CNN 22, Fox 31 and Reuters 27. 

Photo: 450 gather in East County San Diego to support protesters in Iraq, calling for an end to corruption and resumption of rudimentary services once taken for granted in oil-rich Iraq

A local source told us 57 are dead, but that figure is not corroborated in mainstream media. However, internet access has been restricted in an effort to stall protests, so the real numbers may indeed be much higher than what is being reported in official media reports.

According to some reports, the military has opened live machine gun fire directly into crowds. East County Magazine has not independently verified this claim. We saw pictures of at least 4 dead.

According to Fox and a protester in a video circulating on Al-Jazeera, Iranian security forces are responsible for much of the violence. “You come to protest and they fire at you. They are all Iranians speaking in Farsi. You want to speak to them, and they answer in Farsi. Iraqis would not fire at you,” he tells the camera.

“But they're still standing strong because they trust us out here to carry on their mission and let their voice be heard and that's why we're here,” says Abdelahad.

Most of the unrest is in the south. “Northern Kurdish regions and Sunni majority areas in the west remain mostly calm,” according to the BBC. One million people remain internally displaced in Iraq, while 6.7 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations.

Maryam Deuge tells us, “People are protesting because there isn't water, food or electricity, and no jobs. Doctors and engineers have been sitting jobless for years. Now they shut off the internet.”

She continues, “we want our voice to go to someone so someone can do something about the corrupt government. We want it to be as good as it was before.”  She pauses, then adds,”Better than it was before.” Abdelehad chimes in, “we want it to be better than it was before.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein led to destabilization that created opportunities for ISIS to take over. Though ISIS has been since ousted from control, the region’s problems are far from over, calling to mind former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s remarks likening the Iraq situation to Pottery Barn: “You break it; you buy it.”

“There is a revolution to change the government and policy in Iraq,” says Dr. Ayad Marcus (photo, left, along with Dr. Gada Toma.) He continues, “we support our people in Iraq because so many people died and more than 1,000 people are injured so we're just here to support them.”

The protesters have been largely peaceful. However, at least one police officer is also counted among the dead.

Hazim Hussein tells us, “We're protesting here because there are a lot of young people in Iraq and the government over there is attacking them because they want opportunity and jobs. All of them are highly educated so they went to protest but the government over there attacked them.” Hussein continued, “The government attacked them with machine guns. They blocked the net so there's no freedom, so the Iraqi community in San Diego is trying to support our brothers and sisters in our home country.”

Photo, right:  Angham Hermiz calls for peace.

Internet access in much of Iraq has been restricted in an effort to curtail protests. Fox reports that “social and messaging apps used to organize the protests were also blocked,” while BBC reports that access is “limited.” Al-Jazeera reports “75% of Iraq is offline, after major network operators 'intentionally restricted' access, according to cyber security monitor NetBlocks.”