Demos continue to paralyze Iraq as political factions look for a way out

Iraqi security forces arrest volunteers while distributing food for protesters during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad on Thursday. (AP)
Updated 08 November 2019

Demos continue to paralyze Iraq as political factions look for a way out

  • Abdul Mahdi trying to calm protesters by providing them with jobs in various ministries

BAGHDAD: Political parties in Iraq resumed their meetings on Thursday in an attempt to resolve the current crisis and end the public protests. Meanwhile, the demonstrations continued to paralyze daily life in Baghdad, where bridges have been blocked and government institutions disrupted for more than a week.

The country’s leading political forces have been trying to find ways to break the impasse and appease protesters that are acceptable to all parties. 

The demands of the demonstrators include the dismissal of the government, amid accusations that Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and his allies authorized the use of lethal force in an attempt to suppress the protests when they began last month, leaving more than 300 people dead and 12,000 injured. 

They also want new election laws, early parliamentary elections, amendments to the constitution, and the appointment of a new members of the Independent High Electoral Commission.

“There is no gap between the demands of the demonstrators and the initiatives of the political forces,” said Mohammed Al-Sudani, a prominent Shiite politician and former minister, who added that talks were continuing to find compromises that are acceptable to both sides.

“Regarding the dismissal of the government or the prime minister, a legal and official request to question the prime minister has been made by Al-Nassir bloc and others, which is supported by the majority of the parliamentary blocs. This means that we are about to change the government,” he said, adding that the only uncertainty is about the timing and mechanisms for doing so.

“The problem now is that there is no clear leadership among the demonstrators that can negotiate for them, so they must appoint leaders or ask one of the parties they trust to represent them,” said Al-Sudani.

Abdul Mahdi has been trying to calm the protesters’ anger by providing them with job opportunities daily in various ministries, and by speeding up the resolution of financial and administrative corruption cases involving politicians and officials.  

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On Thursday, the Integrity Commission banned the governor of Babil and the former governor of Basra — both facing corruption charges — from traveling, while the Supreme Judicial Council sentenced in absentia a former bank manager to seven years in prison for wasting public money.

The political system in Iraq has been based on political quotas since 2004. No administrative, ministerial or constitutional amendments can be made without a consensus among the Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni political forces, regardless of the number of parliamentary seats each holds.

Abdul Mahdi’s allies mostly come from Iranian-backed Shiite and Sunni political factions, along with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is led by the influential Masoud Barzani.

The Sunni factions have been the most weakened political force since the areas they controlled were taken over by Daesh in 2014 and then recaptured by Iraqi forces and Shiite factions backed by Iran. 

Most of them subsequently joined forces with Shiite factions to become part of the larger Alliance Towards Reform coalition led by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, or the Iran-backed Al-Binna’a alliance, both of which joined Abdul Mahdi’s government in Oct. 2018.

Kurdish parties were fragmented after the 2018 parliamentary election as a result of competition between them and political dissent. 

The KDP remains the largest and most influential, especially in the autonomous northern Kurdish region, where it controls the regional government, its finances and its share of the federal budget.

The KDP is also the most prominent Kurdish political ally of Al-Binna’a and one of the strongest objectors to the dismissal of Abdul Mahdi, early elections and constitutional amendments.

“Barzani is against any change to Abdul Mahdi’s status or the constitution because he benefits from the current situation,” said a senior Kurdish leader and a governmental adviser. 

“Abdul Mahdi gave him facilities he (Barzani) never dreamed of, especially with regard to oil contracts and the region’s share of the annual budget.

“Any alternative to Abdul Mahdi means the application of constitutional and legal articles with respect to the budget, disputed areas, oil contracts and oil exports by the Kurdish region, and this would mean very significant losses for the KDP.”

While keen to find a way to end the current crisis, Iraq’s political factions remain determined to preserve their own interests and keep any individual losses or concessions to a minimum, politicians involved in the ongoing crisis talks told Arab News.

“They will definitely block the dismissal of Abdul Mahdi when voting,” said a prominent Shiite politician. “They (the political coalitions) will introduce a new election law and a new electoral commission and will stall ... before they agree to early elections.

“Maybe they will agree to hold an early election but it should takeplace after a year or so. Already the preparations will need more thanthis amount of time.”


From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

Updated 18 min 30 sec ago

From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

  • Doors open again after virus lockdown
  • Internal flights resume from Saudi airports

JEDDAH/AMMAN: It began at dawn. As the first light appeared on the horizon and the call to Fajr prayer rang out, Muslims from Riyadh to Madinah and Jeddah to Jerusalem returned to their mosques on Sunday after a two-month break that for many was unbearable.

More than 90,000 mosques throughout Saudi Arabia were deep cleaned and sanitized in preparation for the end of the coronavirus lockdown. Worshippers wore face masks, kept a minimum of two meters apart, brought their own prayer mats and performed the ablution ritual at home.

“My feelings are indescribable. We are so happy. Thank God we are back in His house,” said Abdulrahman, 45, at Al-Rajhi mosque in Riyadh, where worshippers had their temperatures checked before entering.

Television screens inside the mosque displayed written instructions, including the need to maintain a safe distance from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Jerusalem, at 3:30 a.m. thousands crowded outside three gates assigned to be opened to allow Muslims to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque. Young and old, men and women, many with their phone cameras on, chanted religious songs as they waited to return for the first time since the virus lockdown began.

“Those wishing to pray were checked for their temperature and those without a mask were given one by Waqf staff. All were asked to stay a safe distance from each other when they prayed,” Mazen Sinokrot, a member of the Islamic Waqf, told Arab News.

Wasfi Kailani executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque told Arab News that enabling Muslims to pray in large numbers and according to health requirements had gone smoothly.

“People cooperated with the local Muslim authorities and followed the regulations.” The people of Jerusalem had shown a high degree of responsibility, he said.

Israeli police spokesman Miky Rosenfeld told Arab News that extra police units had been  mobilized in the old city of Jerusalem for the reopening of Al-Aqsa. 

“People arrived in the areas scheduled according to health and security guidelines,” he said.

Khaled Abu Arafeh, a former Minister for Jerusalem in the Ismael Haniyeh government in 2006, said people were happy to be able to pray once more at Islam’s third-holiest site.

“It is time to open a new page in cooperation with local institutions and with Jordan to regain all that has been lost over the years,” he told Arab News.

“The Waqf council has done a good job in dealing with the contradictions and pressures that they are under, which is like walking on a knife’s edge as they deal with the occupiers on the one hand and the health situation on the other, while also trying to be responsive to the desires of worshippers.”

Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, commercial flights took to the air again, office staff returned to work and restaurants resumed serving diners as life began a gradual return to normal after the coronavirus lockdown.

Eleven of the Kingdom’s 28 airports opened on Sunday for the first time since March 21. “The progressive and gradual reopening aims at controlling the crowds inside airports because we want to achieve the highest health efficiency,” civil aviation spokesman Ibrahim bin Abdullah Alrwosa told Arab News.

No one without an e-ticket will be allowed into an airport, face masks must be worn and safe distancing observed, and children under 15 may not travel unaccompanied.