Cleric Al-Sadr urges rivals to help oust Iraq's prime minister

Muqtada Al-Sadr joins anti-government demonstrators gathering in Najaf on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2019

Cleric Al-Sadr urges rivals to help oust Iraq's prime minister

  • Muqtada Al-Sadr has offered his support to the protests sweeping southern Iraq
  • At least 240 people have died and 8,000 been wounded since demonstrations broke out

NAJAF: The Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr joined thousands of demonstrators in the holy city of Najaf on Tuesday amid a spiralling political crisis sparked by deadly anti-government protests.
At least 240 people have died and 8,000 been wounded since demonstrations broke out on Oct. 1 over unemployment and corruption, before evolving into calls for the government to quit.
Al-Sadr has spearheaded demands for Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation and early parliamentary elections.

He later called on his biggest political rival to work with him on ousting the country's prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Al-Sadr, who leads parliament's largest bloc, asked Hadi Al-Amiri, leader of the second-largest, to help him introduce a vote of no confidence.

On Tuesday, Al-Sadr was spotted by an AFP correspondent amid thousands of anti-government demonstrators in his native Najaf, a holy city in southern Iraq.
He was seen in a white car in the city just after airport sources told AFP he had landed from neighboring Iran.
Al-Sadr himself is one of the current government’s two main sponsors, after his Sairoon bloc won the largest share of parliament’s 329 seats in a vote last year.
But he tweeted in support of an initial six-day wave of protests that rocked the country early this month and resumed last week.
Demonstrators have so far been unimpressed by premier Abdul-Mahdi’s laundry list of reforms, which includes hiring drives and more social welfare.
Instead, they have increasingly pushed for early elections, a new government and a reworked constitution.
After failing to meet several times, parliament on Monday agreed to explore early polls and constitutional amendments, summoning Abdel Mahdi for questioning.
They reiterated their demand Tuesday, calling on him to appear at parliament headquarters “immediately.”
In footage aired on local media, MPs from the largest bloc of Sairoon — tied to Al-Sadr — could be heard chanting, “At once! At once!“
The parliament is deeply divided, with Al-Sadr backing protests while second-largest bloc Fatah — the political branch of the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force — backs the government.
Several Hashed offices have been torched in recent days in southern Iraq in what observers say is likely an escalation of the rivalry between Al-Sadr and the Hashed.
Abdul-Mahdi has urged Al-Sadr to agree with Fatah chief Hadi Al-Ameri on a way forward.
“If the goal of elections is to change the government, then there is a shorter way: for you to agree with Mr. Ameri to form a new government,” the premier wrote in a public letter to the cleric on Tuesday.
“Once this agreement is reached, the prime minister can submit his resignation and the new government can receive its orders in days, if not hours,” said Abdel Mahdi.
He dismissed the idea of bringing forward polls, saying, “But the fate of early elections would be unknown. Will its results be definitive?“
The chaotic protest movement is unprecedented in Iraq, both because of its apparently independent nature and the ensuing violence.
The first wave of protests starting October 1 left 157 people dead, mostly protesters in Baghdad, according to a government probe which acknowledged “excessive force” was used.
A second wave starting Thursday has left at least 83 dead.
Overnight, at least one protester was killed in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, said the Iraqi Human Rights Commission.
The city’s forensics chief told AFP a 24-year-old had been shot in the head, but the governor and security forces said it was “categorically false” anyone had died.
Rallies escalated on Tuesday, with trade unions representing teachers, lawyers and dentists all declaring strikes lasting several days.
In Iraq’s southern cities of Hilla, Diwaniyah, Kut and Nasiriyah, most government offices remained closed on Tuesday for lack of staff.
Students gathered in those cities for their third day of demonstrations, ignoring orders by the higher education minister to return to class.
In the capital, protesters were massing on a key bridge linking their main gathering place in Tahrir Square to the Green Zone, where government offices and foreign embassies are based.
They managed to breach a first barrier set up by security forces, who have been holding back demonstrators there in recent days with volleys of tear gas.
Many had spent the night in tents or abandoned buildings in Tahrir in defiance of a curfew declared by the army.
“Their curfew changed nothing,” 30-year-old protester Duaa said on Tuesday morning.
“Did the government think we would stay at home? No way.”
About 60 percent of Iraq’s 40-million population is under the age of 25.
But youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, while one in five people live below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second-largest crude producer.
“We don’t want this government any more. We want a transitional government and constitutional change,” another female protester said.
“I’m a teacher, I have a salary, I have a house — but the young unemployed people are my brothers and relatives, too.”

Egypt army drill ‘sends a message to Erdogan’

Updated 46 min 29 sec ago

Egypt army drill ‘sends a message to Erdogan’

  • Military exercise near Libyan border a ‘warning shot,’ experts say

CAIRO: A major Egyptian army exercise near the border with Libya is being viewed by military and strategic experts as a message of deterrence to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his backing for the Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj and supported by militia groups.

The combat exercise, codenamed “Hasm 2020” (Firmness 2020), was carried out by Egypt’s Western Region units together with armed forces formations and special troops, including paratroops and SEAL teams.

The drills included strategic incursions by land forces and land-sea operations by troops in coastal areas of the Western Region near the border with Libya. Other exercises focused on the threat from mercenary or terror groups.

Air defense and artillery maneuvers were also carried out during the exercises, which lasted several days. 

African affairs and national security expert Gen. Mohammed Abdel-Wahed said the Hasm 2020 exercise “carries many internal and external messages of assurance to our brothers in Libya and deterrence to some regional parties.”

The drill “was a message of deterrence to anyone who thinks he can threaten Egyptian national security” and “a simulation of war,” he added.

According to an army statement, the drill’s main phase was attended by Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Zaki, and included live artillery and weapons fire.

Strategic expert Gen. Samir Farag said: “What happened was not an ordinary drill because the forces attacked mercenaries. Our army always fights a regular army. What is different about this drill is training to combat mercenaries. One of the training tasks is to carry out attacks to eliminate mercenaries in cooperation with the air force.”

Farag said the drill “is a message that we will operate on the coasts if they are under threat.”

He said the Egyptian air force succeeded in providing air supplies, “meaning that we have forces capable of going anywhere.”

Farag said that the Western Region had been carefully selected as a location for the exercises.

“We closely monitor any drill carried out by any of our enemies,” he said, adding that Hasm 2020 had been studied and followed up by some countries in the region. 

Egyptian MP and journalist Mustafa Bakry said that “every Egyptian should be proud of their armed forces and their extensive preparation to counter any attack on Egypt or threaten its national security.”

Bakry said that Hasm 2020 sent “a clear message to anyone who attempts to threaten Egypt or its people.”

The Libyan cities of Sirte and Al-Jufra are a red line, he said, adding that “Egypt will never leave Libya and its brotherly people as an easy prey to the Turkish invader.”