November 28, 2019 / 4:49 PM / 14 days ago

Prayers, candles and blood at makeshift Baghdad martyrs' museum

A makeshift memorial with personal belongings of those who were killed at an anti-government protests is displayed at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, November 23, 2019. Picture taken November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A plastic helmet with a gaping bullet hole. A bloodsoaked T-shirt suspended next to a row of bloodsoaked flags. Tear gas grenades lined up in columns. Photo after photo of young men, on posters that bear the dates their government killed them.

What started as an ad hoc shrine to Iraqis killed in protests against government corruption has become a museum and memorial to scores of dead, a place of prayer and quiet reflection at the heart of Baghdad’s Tahrir square.

After two months of protests against a government widely viewed as corrupt and beholden to outside powers, Iraqis young and old have been converging on the makeshift museum to pay respects.

Tahrir, at the base of a bridge that leads across the Tigris to the fortified Green Zone government compound, has become sacred ground.

“As an Imam, I prefer to pray and read the Koran here than doing so at the mosque,” said Ibrahim Gharawy, an Islamic scholar in turban and robes. “Reading the Koran and praying in this place angers the corrupt.”

Near the exhibits, protesters have set up a long table, where Korans lay open among lit candles and melted wax. Carpets are laid alongside for people to kneel and pray.

“According to the Koran, the martyrs who died should not go in vain. There are more than 450 martyrs in Baghdad alone,” said a female student, whose face was veiled with a scarf of the black, red and white Iraqi flag. “Praying for them is the least we can do. I hope we gain our rights and be victorious.”

Ahmed Qatethabet, a construction worker and protester, described the exhibition as a monument that would “remain for generations to come.

“As we have opened it, the exhibition will remain in Tahrir forever,” he said.

Reporting by Reuters television; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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