Iraq students join rallies as pressure on government swells

A demonstrator carries a boy during a protest in Baghdad on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 28 October 2019

Iraq students join rallies as pressure on government swells

  • Most of those killed since Thursday have been shot in the Shiite-majority south, but medics and protesters in the capital have reported trauma wounds from tear gas canisters

BAGHDAD: Iraqi students joined anti-government protests in Baghdad on Sunday, ramping up the street pressure on Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi who also faced a sit-in from Parliament’s largest bloc.
The capital and country’s south have been rocked by a second wave of demonstrations since Thursday, with protesters digging in despite tear gas, curfews and violence that has left more than 60 dead.
On Sunday morning, students could be seen joining demonstrations in the capital, with activists saying about a dozen schools and universities had decided to shut their doors and take part in protests en masse.
In the emblematic Tahrir Square, young girls in school uniforms with rucksacks were seen trekking through streets littered with tear gas canisters. Hundreds of protesters had hunkered
down in the square, defying heavy tear gas use overnight and pledging to “weed out” the political class.
“We’re here to bring down the whole government — to weed them all out!” one protester said, the Iraqi tricolor wrapped around his head.
The protests are unprecedented in recent Iraqi history for their ire at the entire political class, including Abdel Mahdi, Parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbussi and even traditionally revered religious leaders.  They have also been exceptionally violent, with 157 dead in the first set of rallies and 63 dead in the latest round.
“We don’t want a single one of them. Not Halbussi, not Abdel Mahdi. We want to bring down the regime,” the protester said. Women were also seen in larger numbers, including a young nurse who said she was protesting “for the generation that’s coming.” “Our generation is psychologically tired, but it’s alright as long as this is for the next one,” she said.
Renewed protests also flooded the streets of Najaf, Hilla, Karbala and Diwaniyah in the south.
In the oil-rich port city of Basra, police enforced a strict curfew and said it arrested “saboteurs” who had infiltrated the protesters.
This week’s demonstrations are the sequel to six days of anti-government rallies that erupted October 1. Sparked by outrage at corruption, unemployment and poor services, they evolved
into demands for an overhaul of the political system and a new constitution.
On Saturday, Iraqi President Barham Saleh met with the United Nations’ top representative in the country Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert to discuss electoral reform and amendments to the constitution, which dates back to 2005. Abdel Mahdi has also proposed a laundry list of reforms including hiring drives, increased pensions and promises to root out corruption. Oil-rich Iraq is the OPEC oil cartel’s second biggest producer, but one in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, according to the World Bank.

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60 people have been reported dead, and still counting, as Baghdad is rocked by a second wave of demonstrations since Thursday, with protesters digging in despite tear gas, curfews and violence.

Beyond the street, Abdel Mahdi also faces new pressure from Parliament, whose largest bloc has been holding an open-ended sit-in since Saturday night to back the rallies.
“The sit-in is ongoing and open until protester demands are met and the reforms promised by the PM are enacted,” said MP Salam Al-Hadi, a member of Saeroon — an alliance between populist cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr and Iraq’s Communist Party. The move has left Abdel Mahdi more squeezed than ever, as Saeroon was one of the two main sponsors of his government.
The other was Fatah, the political arm of the Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary force which said it would continue to back the central government.
The one-time allies now find themselves on opposite sides of the protest movement.
The Hashed was founded in 2014 to fight the Daesh group but its factions have since been ordered to incorporate into state security services.
Several of their offices have been torched in recent days in southern Iraqi cities, hinting at a new violent phase. Dozens of protesters have died while storming or setting fire to the offices of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, the Badr Organization and others, according to medics and police.  Hashed commanders have threatened revenge, and its second-in-command Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis said Sunday his force “is ready to stand against discord.” The UN has warned “armed spoilers” could derail efforts at peaceful protests in Iraq, saying it was “tragic” to see renewed violence in the country. A government probe found “excessive force” was used to quell the first week of protests and in a noticeable change, there have been no reports of live ammunition in Baghdad in recent days.
Most of those killed since Thursday have been shot in the Shiite-majority south, but medics and protesters in the capital have reported trauma wounds from tear gas canisters.
On Sunday, security forces were positioned on the edges of Tahrir, while elite Counter-Terrorism Service troops and armored vehicles were seen in surrounding districts.
The CTS said it had deployed its units to “protect vital infrastructure,” and its forces were not seen in Tahrir.


German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

Updated 24 November 2020

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

  • Germany insists it acted correctly in boarding a Turkish ship to enforce arms embargo of Libya
  • Turkey summoned European diplomats to complain at the operation

BERLIN: Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday rejected Turkey’s complaints over the search of a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean Sea by a German frigate participating in a European mission, insisting that German sailors acted correctly.
Sunday’s incident prompted Turkey to summon diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy and assert that the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A was subjected to an “illegal” search by personnel from the German frigate Hamburg. The German ship is part of the European Union’s Irini naval mission, which is enforcing an arms embargo against Libya.
German officials say that the order to board the ship came from Irini’s headquarters in Rome and that Turkey protested while the team was on board. The search was then ended.
Turkey says the search was “unauthorized and conducted by force.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer backed the German crew’s actions.
“It is important to me to make really clear that the Bundeswehr soldiers behaved completely correctly,” she said during an appearance in Berlin. “They did what is asked of them in the framework of the European Irini mandate.”
“That there is this debate with the Turkish side points to one of the fundamental problems of this European mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer added, without elaborating. “But it is very important to me to say clearly here that there are no grounds for these accusations that are now being made against the soldiers.”
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
Turkey supports a UN-backed government in Tripoli against rival forces based in the country’s east. It has complained that the EU naval operation focuses its efforts too much on the Tripoli administration and turns a blind eye to weapons sent to the eastern-based forces.
In Ankara, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Irini was “flawed from the onset.”
“It is not based on firm international legal foundations,” Akar said. He renewed Turkey’s criticism of the German ship’s actions.
“The incident was against international laws and practices. It was wrong,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that “Turkey is still an important partner for us in NATO.” Turkey being outside the military alliance would make the situation even more difficult, she argued, and Turkish soldiers are “absolutely reliable partners” in NATO missions.
But she conceded that Turkey poses “a big challenge” because of how its domestic politics have developed and because it has its “own agenda, which is difficult to reconcile with European questions in particular.”