Iraqi students have become a focus of the government’s efforts to snuff out the protests that have largely paralyzed that country since the end of October.
In Basra, an oil-rich city by the banks of the Shatt al-Arab River in southern Iraq, thousands of students flock to the University of Basra every morning. But the university’s classrooms are mostly empty.
“We gather in the university’s courtyards and start our daily marches against the government,” said Hussein al-Shammari, a mechanical engineering student at the university. “Our slogans vary and follow the country’s political developments.”
The Basra students’ protests against corruption and high unemployment are part of a widespread anti-government uprising in cities across Iraq’s southern governorates, including Baghdad, the capital. Six hundred people have been killed and nearly 22,000 have been wounded in the protests, the most widespread since the U.S-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. (See the following related articles: “Inside Iraq’s Protests: Students are Defiant in Their Demands” and “In Iraq, Hunger for Jobs Collides With a Government That Can’t Provide Them.”)
Government vs. Students
The government and university administrations are now pressuring students to stop the long-running protests. But ending student participation might end the protests themselves, many protest organizers fear.