UN chief condemns live fire at Iraqi protesters as ‘disturbing’

Iraqi demonstrators take part at the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 1, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 07 November 2019

UN chief condemns live fire at Iraqi protesters as ‘disturbing’

  • In Baghdad, protesters had been concentrated in Tahrir Square but have increasingly spilled over onto nearby bridges leading to the western bank of the Tigris
  • A group of protesters Wednesday tried to cross a fourth bridge, Al-Shuhada, but were met with live rounds from security forces

BAGDHADAD: The United Nations chief Antonio Guterres denounced as “disturbing” reports that Iraqi security forces have fired live ammunition at anti-government protesters in Baghdad, as mass rallies continued to rock the capital and southern Iraq.
The demonstrations broke out on October 1 in anger over corruption and unemployment but have morphed into demands that the entire ruling system be upended.
The violence has left nearly 280 dead, with security forces resuming their use of live rounds on Monday after nearly two weeks of using volleys of tear gas, but no firearms, to push back protesters.
Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed his “serious concern over the rising number of deaths and injuries during the ongoing demonstrations in Iraq.”
“Reports of the continued use of live ammunition against demonstrators are disturbing,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
He called for all acts of violence to be investigated “seriously” and renewed his appeal for “meaningful dialogue between the government and demonstrators.”
In Baghdad, protesters had been concentrated in Tahrir Square but have increasingly spilled over onto nearby bridges leading to the western bank of the Tigris.
For days, they have faced off against security forces on the Al-Jumhuriyah bridge, which links them to the Green Zone where government offices and embassies are based.
They then spread to Al-Sinek, which ends near the Iranian embassy, and Al-Ahrar, near other government buildings.
A group of protesters Wednesday tried to cross a fourth bridge, Al-Shuhada, but were met with live rounds from security forces, an AFP correspondent said.
Several protesters were wounded.
“The riot police hit us with batons on our heads and we threw rocks at them,” said Mahmoud, a 20-year-old protester being treated by medics after trying to cross Al-Shuhada bridge.
“But then they started firing live rounds on people.”
Even the tear gas usage has been deadly, however, with medics and rights group Amnesty International saying security forces appeared to be firing the canisters directly at protesters.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said security forces were instructed to use force if protesters got close to important government buildings including the central bank.
On Wednesday, at least four people died of wounds sustained in earlier protests, medical sources told AFP.
Oil-rich Iraq is OPEC’s second biggest producer, but one in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, according to the World Bank.


Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.