Iraqi PM announces reshuffle, three days of mourning for protest dead

Mourners carry the flag-draped coffin of Hassan Radi, a protester killed during anti-government demonstrations, during his funeral in Najaf, Iraq, Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 10 October 2019

Iraqi PM announces reshuffle, three days of mourning for protest dead

  • At least 110 people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded in the capital and the south
  • Abdul Mahdi said that the government did not give orders to shoot at protesters

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Wednesday announced a cabinet reshuffle, declared three days of national mourning and said those who shot protesters would be punished as he sought to quell anti-government unrest that has roiled Iraq for days.
Authorities fear that violence, which has killed more than 110 people, mostly protesters angry at government corruption, could spiral, leading war-weary Iraq toward more civil strife.
Protests erupted in Baghdad last week and soon spread to southern cities. Abdul Mahdi’s government has sought to address demonstrators’ grievances.
However, a package of reforms announced by the government — including more job opportunities, subsidies and housing — is unlikely to satisfy Iraqis; nor is a cabinet reshuffle, likely to feature many of the same faces despised by protesters as an out-of-touch political elite.
“We will ask parliament to vote tomorrow on changes to ministries,” Abdul Mahdi said at a news conference, adding that the government would be referring the names of hundreds of corrupt officials to the judiciary for investigation.
Abdul Mahdi’s government will seek to weather the storm, however, backed by powerful Iran-aligned armed groups and political factions determined to preserve the status quo.
Authorities have used an Internet blackout, arrests of protesters and targeting of reporters to try to stem further unrest.
At least 110 people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded in the capital and the south, since the security forces started cracking down on demonstrators. Reuters journalists have witnessed protesters killed and wounded by shots fired by snipers from rooftops into the crowd.
Abdul Mahdi said that the government did not give orders to shoot.
“We gave clear orders not to use live fire but there were still victims of shooting,” Abdul Mahdi said, adding that it was wrong to damage the country.
Much of the unrest has been at night, but on Wednesday morning there were no reports of serious violence overnight. Authorities on Wednesday reopened the road leading to Baghdad’s Tayaran Square, scene of bloody protests in recent days.
However, the security forces pressed on with their crackdown, arresting protesters after nightfall on Tuesday in eastern and northwestern parts of Baghdad, police sources told Reuters.
Police carried recent photographs of protesters to identify and arrest them, the sources said.
Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights also said about 500 people had been released from the 800 detained last week.
Intermittent access to Internet returned on Wednesday morning, and protesters continued to upload video and photos from the demonstrations. The government shut down coverage almost immediately as protests began, according to an order by the prime minister seen by Reuters.
The offices of local and international media were attacked last week, and journalists have said they were warned not to cover the protests. With the Internet down, there was little coverage of the protests on television.
Ministers met provincial governors, to address grievances across the country, which include crumbling infrastructure, toxic water and high unemployment. But proposed reforms, some of which have been recycled from a package of proposed reforms after protests in 2015, are unlikely to ease public anger.
The unrest shattered nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq, since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the recent violence and urged Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to exercise maximum restraint and address protesters’ grievances, the US State Department said.


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 14 October 2019

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.