Masked gunmen have ransacked the offices of multiple television stations in Baghdad, as the death toll following days of civil unrest continues to climb.
The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya said that carloads of gunmen arrived at its offices on Saturday evening, ransacked the building and beat up employees who fled. The offices of Dijla, NRT, Arabiya Hadath, Fallouja, Alghad Alaraby, Al-Sharqiya and Sky News Arabia were also reportedly targeted.
Among the networks targeted were Kurdish, Jordanian, international and locally-owned outlets.
The identity of the attackers is unknown, though NRT claimed that they belonged to “security forces.” On the other hand, Al-Arabiya claimed that the attackers actively “prevented the federal police from helping” its staff.
The attack on the mass media comes on the fifth-day of countrywide anti-government protests, which began last week in response to high unemployment and alleged government corruption. Protesters have called for the fall of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s year-old government, and have targeted state buildings in arson attacks.
Gun battles have also broken out between citizens and security forces, and the death toll across the country now stands at nearly 100, as of late Saturday evening, according to Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights. The commission also claims that more than 3,000 people have been wounded in clashes, making it the deadliest unrest in the country since the defeat of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in 2017.
Earlier in the week, Mahdi’s government imposed a curfew in Baghdad and in several cities across the country’s south, a move that further inflamed demonstrators. There have been claims that internet access was also cut off for much of the country, apparently in a bid to stop protesters organizing on social media.
Two decades of war – the US invasion, years of sectarian violence, and the emergence of Islamic State – have taken a heavy toll on the economy and infrastructure of Iraq, leaving many people lacking the most basic services. Though the country sits on the world’s fifth-largest proven oil reserves, much of the population lives in poverty.