In 2019, Baghdad was shaken by massive anti-government protests, the largest since the US invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew Saddam Hussein. Demonstrations started in October when people took to the streets to protest against the government’s corruption, high unemployment rates, and poor public services.
After Hussein’s Baath regime fell, the US and its allies introduced a political system characterised by a wide sectarian divide between the Sunni and Shia communities. Frustrated with this order, protestors were also calling for the end of foreign intervention in Iraq.
But while Iraqis were full of hope for fundamental changes, they were met with violence perpetrated by security forces and Iranian-backed militias. Hundreds of people were killed and very few reforms were introduced.
Baghdad’s Tahrir Square was the epicentre of the protests and the tunnel adjacent to it was converted into an artistic space filled with murals presenting the ideas and conveying emotions of the protestors.
The murals tell the story of resistance against the crackdown by security forces and express criticism of the UN’s inaction in preventing the losses of civilian lives.
In addition to messages calling for a revolution and expressing anger, many murals focus on the role of women in the protests. The uprising gave voice to women, empowering them and advancing gender equality in Iraq.
Despite the state’s repressive response, for months, Iraqis kept standing up for their rights, demanding justice and a democratic future for their country. The protests created a strong sense of collective identity and represented a turning point for freedom of expression in Iraq. The legacy of these events has been immortalised in Baghdad’s murals.