UN calls for Iraq violence to stop as death toll nears 100

1 / 3
Iraqi protesters evacuate a wounded comrade during clashes in Baghdad Saturday. (AFP)
2 / 3
Renewed protests took place under live fire in Iraq's capital and the country's south Saturday. (AFP)
3 / 3
Iraqi security forces cut off Jamhuriya bridge, which leads to Baghdad's administrative and diplomatic Green Zone, with military vehicles near the Iraqi capital's Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on October 5, 2019 after a curfew was lifted following a day of violent protests. (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2019

UN calls for Iraq violence to stop as death toll nears 100

  • The new clashes shattered a day of relative calm after authorities lifted a curfew
  • The unrest is the deadliest Iraq has seen since the declared defeat of Daesh in 2017 and has shaken Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's year-old government

BAGHDAD: At least nine more people were killed in Iraq on Saturday as the death toll from six days of protests neared 100, with nearly 4,000 injured. Most of the dead were protesters.

The UN demanded an end to the violence. “Five days of … deaths and injuries; this must stop,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the secretary general’s special representative in Iraq.

She described the violence as a “senseless loss of life” and said those behind it must be held accountable.

Hours after a curfew in Baghdad was lifted on Saturday, protesters began gathering in the streets around Tahrir Square. 

Armored vehicles and troops sealed off the area, while special forces and army vehicles deployed around the square.

Four people were killed when security forces fired at protesters in a street near the square. Hundreds of protesters retreated from tear gas and live fire by security forces, but at least three more were killed by gunfire. Another protester was killed and 13 injured in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Zafaraniyah. Nearly 40 people were wounded in the capital.

Security forces broke up the main protest outside the Oil Ministry into smaller isolated groups, and conducted house-to-house searches. 

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the southern cities of Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah, defying a curfew that was still in place there.

In Diwaniyah, at least one protester was killed as demonstrators marched toward local government offices. In Nasiriyah, demonstrators torched the offices of three political parties and a member of parliament, and security forces responded with gunfire.

The demonstrations — which have evolved from initial demands for employment and better services to the fall of the government — carried on into the night in various neighborhoods of Baghdad and southern Iraq, as authorities struggled to agree a response.

The authorities accused unidentified snipers of shooting into the crowd and said they were searching residential neighborhoods for those responsible.

The mainly young, male protesters have insisted their movement is not linked to any party or religious establishment and have scoffed at recent overtures by politicians.

Parliament’s human rights commission said Saturday that most of those who have died in the last five days fell in Baghdad, while 250 other people were treated in the capital for sniper wounds.

“We demand clarification from the Iraqi government on those wounded in Baghdad by sniper fire, which is ongoing today,” the commission said.

Parliament had been due to meet at 1 p.m. but could not reach quorum, after firebrand cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr’s bloc of 54 lawmakers and other factions boycotted the session.

The former militia leader threw his weight behind the demonstrations on Friday with a call for the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.

Sadr’s movement has the power and organization to bring large numbers of supporters onto the streets, but at the risk of alienating many of those whose protests in recent days have been based on rejecting all of Iraq’s feuding political factions.

Parliamentary speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi had extended a hand to protesters saying “your voice is being heard.”

But one protester said late Friday “these men don’t represent us.”

“We don’t want parties anymore. We don’t want anyone to speak in our name.”

Iraq has a population of just under 40 million people, and is currently the fifth-largest oil producer and exporter worldwide, and the second-largest OPEC producer.

Youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, twice the overall rate, according to the World Bank which adds that an estimated 22.5 percent of the population was living in poverty in 2014.

The largely spontaneous protests have presented the biggest challenge yet to the Iraqi premier, who came to power a year ago as a consensus candidate promising reforms but whose response to protesters has been seen as tepid.

“Abdel Mahdi should have come forward with decisive changes, like the sacking of leading politicians accused of corruption,” said Iraqi analyst Sarmad Al-Bayati.

Authorities restricted access to Facebook and Whatsapp after anti-government demonstrations began on Tuesday, before ordering a total network shutdown on Wednesday.

Political and religious rifts run deep in Iraq, and protests are typically called for by party or sect — making the last five days exceptional, said Fanar Haddad an expert at Singapore University’s Middle East Institute.

“This is the first time we hear people saying they want the downfall of the regime,” Haddad said.

Sadr, a former militia leader turned nationalist politician, demanded on Friday that the government resign to clear the way for a fresh election supervised by the United Nations.

His bloc is the largest in parliament, and his intervention sets the scene for a possible showdown with the speaker, who has made his own bid to make political capital out of the protests.

Halbusi sought to allay protesters Saturday by announcing in a news conference a long list of promised reforms over employment and social welfare, but it was not clear he would succeed in appeasing the demonstrators.

Iraq’s Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani used his weekly Friday prayer sermon to urge authorities to heed the demands of demonstrators, warning the protests could escalate unless clear steps are taken immediately.


Israeli PM: Palestinians in Jordan Valley won’t be citizens

Updated 53 min 51 sec ago

Israeli PM: Palestinians in Jordan Valley won’t be citizens

  • Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with plans to annex the Jordan Valley

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley will remain in what he described as an “enclave” after Israel annexes the territory and will not be granted Israeli citizenship.
Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with plans to annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in line with President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, a process that could begin as early as July 1.
The annexation of the Jordan Valley and the far-flung settlements would make it virtually impossible to create a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, which is still widely seen as the only way to resolve the decades-old conflict.
In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper, Netanyahu said Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, including residents of the city of Jericho, would remain under limited Palestinian self-rule, with Israel having overall security control.
“They will remain a Palestinian enclave,” he said. “You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them. They will remain Palestinian subjects, if you will. But security control also applies to these places.”
Palestinians in the West Bank have lived under Israeli military rule since the 1967 war, when Israel captured the territory, along with east Jerusalem and Gaza. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state.
The Trump plan would grant the Palestinians limited statehood over scattered enclaves surrounded by Israel if they meet a long list of conditions. Israel has embraced the plan, while the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, has angrily rejected it and cut ties with the US and Israel.
Netanyahu said that if the Palestinians accept all the conditions in the plan, including Israel maintaining overall security control, “then they will have an entity of their own that President Trump defines as a state.”
Under a coalition agreement reached last month, Netanyahu can bring his annexation plans before the government as early as July 1.
The Palestinian Authority has said it is no longer bound by any agreements signed with Israel and the US, and says it has cut off security coordination with Israel. Neighboring Jordan, a close Western ally and one of only two Arab states to have made peace with Israel, has warned of a “massive conflict” if Israel proceeds with annexation.