BAGHDAD: Iraqi protesters had been rallying against government incompetence, poor public services and foreign political meddling for months. Then the novel coronavirus hit and fuelled their grievances.
"The real virus is Iraqi politicians," said Fatima, an 18-year-old protester and medical student from Baghdad. "We are immune to almost everything else." Across squares in the capital and southern protest hotspots, the anti-government demonstrators who have mobilised since October have started to take public health into their own hands.
They have distributed leaflets and delivered lectures on coronavirus prevention, while volunteers have handed out free medical masks, which have more than doubled in price in local markets. Makeshift clinics, which were erected months ago to treat demonstrators hit by live fire and tear gas cannisters, are now dispensing gloves and sanitiser.
Volunteers in biohazard suits take the temperature of protesters lined up in queues. "Even in normal times our health care system is totally run down," said Fatima, a volunteer in central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protests.
"Now, on top of everything, we have a coronavirus outbreak, and we are supposed to rely on these facilities?" Inside medical centres, blood-stained sinks in washrooms and ill-equipped amenities have become a common sight. Hasan Khallati, a member of the parliament’s health committee, insisted to AFP that Iraq’s "hospitals and healthcare facilities are fully equipped to deal with the outbreak" of COVID-19.