Women are Fighting Side by Side with Men on Front Lines of Iraq Protests

November 6, 2019Joshua Skovlund
Coffee or Die Photo

Tuesday marks 11 days of protests in the streets of Baghdad, Iraq. Over 260 people have been killed thus far, and thousands injured. Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are inflicting many of these injuries with 40mm smoke and CS grenades; many fired intentionally at protesters’ heads. 

The protesters, who claim to be revolutionaries for the Iraqi people, are fighting against government corruption, for women’s rights, and for the right to govern their own country without Iranian influence. Notably, they want to replace their current parliament with a democratic republic system. Protestors have vowed to continue until they have achieved their goals; at the time of this writing, reports are emerging that demonstrators are surrounding the green zone area in Baghdad with the intent of removing government leaders. 

Photo courtesy of Gamila.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is urging demonstrators to put an end to the protests, citing impacts on Iraq’s economy. During his Sunday statement, Mahdi said that “threatening the oil interests and blocking roads leading to Iraq’s ports is causing big losses exceeding billions of dollars.” 

Notably, female Iraqis are protesting alongside their male counterparts. Women are also providing medical treatment to all protesters regardless of gender, despite a longstanding custom that prohibits women from administering to men. The female protesters, who call themselves “the Lionesses of Iraq,” are also re-supplying the front lines of the protests, as well as providing footage to media around the world. 

Photo courtesy of Gamila.

Coffee or Die recently corresponded via WhatsApp with a 23-year-old female Iraqi revolutionary who requested anonymity due to the Iraqi government targeting protesters. “Gamila” has been on the front lines since the start of the protests. “No one here care about life anymore,” she wrote, “they want a better life for the new generations”

Gamila went on to say that women are having a major impact with the protests and that it is possibly the first time in history that they have been side by side with the men. Gamila noted that females are operating on smoke bomb teams, who are organized to repel smoke and gas grenades by running up to where the grenades land — exposing themselves to fire in the process — and throwing them back. 

Photo courtesy of Gamila.

There are also female medics and doctors on standby to treat the injured, which enables the revolutionaries to quickly return to the front lines of the protests. Some of the more gruesome injuries are coming from what is believed to be intentional headshots with 40mm smoke and CS grenades. However, the injuries are not just limited to trauma. A large number of injuries resulting from the concentration of smoke and CS gas are leading to respiratory complications and burns.  

The gas and smoke has become so saturated that birds are dying mid-flight and falling from the sky, Gamila said. Some of the protesters, notably the ones on the smoke bomb teams, are equipped with gas masks that help them stay in the fight longer before rotating out; however, the masks are reportedly not as effective in heavily saturated areas. 

Photo courtesy of Gamila.

Gamila said that most of the females are there throughout the morning before returning to safety because the level of danger is high and their families are afraid of losing them. “When you go there you must expect death at any moment!!” she wrote. However, she confirmed that the female doctors, nurses, and medics stay and provide around-the-clock treatment. 

In addition to medical and operations support, the Lionesses of Iraq are also covering the events of the revolution as journalists, photographers, and videographers. They are leveraging social media in the hope that they can show the world what they are struggling with and what they need help with. 

Photo courtesy of Gamila.

While there are many more women working side-by-side with men when compared to the past, Gamila urged more women to come help with the protests so they can work as a unified team. She, like many other female protesters, is doing so against her family’s wishes. 

But their sacrifices are being recognized. Late last week, a female protester was recognized by a male tribal leader when he placed his culturally significant headgear on her head. The incident signified that he was proud of and honored by her work and that she had the strength of 1,000 men. 

Photo courtesy of Gamila.

The protesters have united with the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police, across religious and gender lines, and they are leading themselves as one Iraqi culture seeking change for themselves and future generations. 

“All we want is to have our simplest rights … to live a decent life,” Gamila said. The protestors claim that they’d rather die than stop, and if they stop before they win, they know they will be targeted and killed by the government. The number of protesters is estimated to be around 2 million, and Gamila said she is happy to see that more and more are joining the revolution each day. 

At the time of this report, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had offered to resign. As Gamila stated, “We want change. And we won’t give up until change” occurs.

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis that followed the death of George Floyd. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he earned his CrossFit Level 1 certificate and worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. He went on to work in paramedicine for more than five years, much of that time in the North Minneapolis area, before transitioning to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion, where he publishes poetry focused on his life experiences.

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