UN mission in Iraq proposes roadmap for ending upheaval

At least 319 protesters have been killed by security forces since the economically driven Iraq protests and unrest began last month. (AP)
Updated 11 November 2019

UN mission in Iraq proposes roadmap for ending upheaval

  • At least 319 protesters have been killed by security forces since the economically driven protests and unrest began last month
  • The leaderless protests are targeting Iraq’s entire political class

BAGHDAD: The United Nations’ mission for Iraq on Sunday proposed a roadmap out of the country’s social upheaval, while Amnesty International said Iraq’s crackdown on anti-government protests has descended into a “bloodbath.”
At least 319 protesters have been killed by security forces since the economically driven protests and unrest began last month, according to the latest figures from the Iraqi Human Rights Commission released Sunday.
Iraqi security forces put up concrete barriers in central Baghdad in an effort to hamper and block the movement of protesters. The measures come after security forces last Monday violently cleared demonstrators from three flashpoint bridges in central Baghdad. By the end of the day, six anti-government protesters were killed more than 100 wounded.
The widening security crackdown reflects government intransigence and narrowing options for protesters who have been on the streets of Baghdad and the mainly Shiite south’s cities for weeks. Authorities shut down Internet access and blocked social media sites several times amid the demonstrations.
The leaderless protests are targeting Iraq’s entire political class and calling for the overhaul of the sectarian system established after the 2003 US-led invasion. Security forces have used live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas in an effort to quell the protests.
On Sunday, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq urged the country’s politicians to chart a way forward and proposed a roadmap, saying time is of essence.
In a statement it laid out a series of short- and longer-term measures to deal with the crisis, including electoral reform and a series of anti-corruption measures. As immediate measures, it called for the release of all peaceful demonstrators detained since Oct. 1, initiating a full investigation of cases of abduction and prosecuting and punishing those responsible for the excessive use of force.
Amnesty International said Iraqi authorities should immediately rein in security forces.
“The government of Iraq has a duty to protect its people’s right to life, as well as to gather and express their views. This bloodbath must stop now, and those responsible for it must be brought to justice,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.
“All government promises of reforms or investigations ring hollow while security forces continue to shoot and kill protesters,” she said.
The White House issued a statement Sunday night calling for a halt to the violence against the protesters.
“The United States is seriously concerned by continued attacks against protesters, civic activists, and the media, as well as restrictions on Internet access, in Iraq,” said the statement from the press secretary. “Iraqis won’t stand by as the Iranian regime drains their resources and uses armed groups and political allies to stop them from peacefully expressing their views. Despite being targeted with lethal violence and denied access to the Internet, the Iraqi people have made their voices heard, calling for elections and election reforms.”
The US called for “the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfill President (Barham) Salih’s promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections.”
The protesters’ most immediate demand is for the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s government. He’s held the post for just over a year, and is refusing to step down.
On Sunday, security forces closed roads near the Khilani Square with one-meter high concrete barriers, trying to block protesters from reaching Baghdad’s landmark Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests, and the Sanak bridge.
At least 19 protesters were wounded when security forces used tear gas to repel them, according to police and hospital sources.
In the southern city of Nasiriyah, security and medical officials said 31 people were injured in confrontations outside the education directorate as security forces tear-gassed protesters trying to block employees from reaching the building in the city center. Among those wounded were two school students, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
On Saturday, five protesters were shot dead by live ammunition, while the sixth was killed by a direct hit to the head from a tear gas cannister, medical and security forces said.
The protesters were pushed back from the three bridges spanning the Tigris River toward the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of government. Protesters have tried to force their way across on an almost daily basis.
The deaths occurred as the protests intensified in the afternoon when demonstrators tried to get back to the bridges. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The demonstrators complain of widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, including regular power cuts, despite Iraq’s vast oil reserves. They have rejected government proposals for limited economic reforms, and instead called on the country’s political leadership to resign, including Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
“We consider the peaceful protests of our people as among the most important events since 2003,” Abdul-Mahdi said in a statement Saturday that vowed to meet the protesters’ demands for wide-ranging reforms. He added that electoral reforms would be put forward soon along with “an important government reshuffle” in response to the protests against the sectarian system imposed in 2003, though the statement didn’t provide further details.
Abdul-Mahdi reiterated an earlier order forbidding security forces to use excessive violence, such as live rounds, against peaceful protesters in a meeting with President Barham Salah and Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi on Sunday.


Thousands protest in Iraq to demand ouster of US troops

Updated 13 min 24 sec ago

Thousands protest in Iraq to demand ouster of US troops

  • A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and read out a statement by the influential Shiite cleric and populist politician
  • In the early hours of Friday, thousands of men, women and children of all ages massed under grey skies in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Thousands of supporters of populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered in Baghdad on Friday for a rally to demand the ouster of US troops, putting the protest-hit capital on edge.

The march rattled the separate, months-old protest movement that has gripped the capital and the Shiite-majority south since October, demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.

In the early hours of Friday, thousands of men, women and children of all ages massed under grey skies in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad.

“Get out, get out, occupier!” some shouted, while others chanted, “Yes to sovereignty!“

A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and read out a statement by the influential Shiite cleric and populist politician.

It called for all foreign forces to leave Iraq, the cancelation of Iraq’s security agreements with the US, the closure of Iraqi airspace to American military and surveillance aircraft and for US President Donald Trump not to be “arrogant” when addressing Iraqi officials.

“If all this is implemented, we will deal with it as a non-occupying country — otherwise it will be considered a country hostile to Iraq,” the statement said.

Protesters then began peeling away from the square, tossing their signs in bins along the way, but thousands lingered in the rally camp.

The American military presence has been a hot-button issue in Iraq since a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu
Mahdi Al-Muhandis outside Baghdad airport on January 3.

Two days later, parliament voted for all foreign troops, including some 5,200 US personnel, to leave the country.

The vote was non-binding and the US special envoy for the coalition against the Daesh group, James Jeffrey, said Thursday there was no “real engagement” between the two governments on the issue.

Joint US-Iraqi operations against IS have been on hold since the drone attack, which triggered retaliatory Iranian missile strikes against US troops in Iraq.

No Iraqi or US personnel were killed in Iran’s strike.

Long opposed to the US troop presence, Sadr seized on the public anger over the drone strike to call “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations.”

Several pro-Iran factions from the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, usually rivals of Sadr, backed his call and pledged to join.

But separate anti-government protesters, who have braved violence that has left 470 people dead since October, fear their cause could be eclipsed by Sadr’s powerplay.

“Sadr doesn’t represent us,” one teenager said defiantly late Thursday on a blocked-off thoroughfare in Baghdad.

To head off Friday’s gathering and ramp up pressure on authorities to enact reforms, young demonstrators blocked streets in Baghdad and across the south this week.

There had been worries that angry crowds might attack the presidential palace or the high-security Green Zone, home to the US embassy and other foreign missions.

The move would not be without precedent for Sadr, who urged followers to storm the Green Zone in 2016 in a challenge to the government over undelivered reforms.

But there were no attempts on Friday morning to storm government buildings.

Sadr, 46, battled US forces at the head of his Mehdi Army militia after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

He later branded himself a reformist and backed the recent anti-government protests when they erupted in October.

The cleric controls parliament’s largest bloc and his followers hold top ministerial positions.

Sadr is a notoriously fickle politician, known for switching alliances quickly.

His spokesman Saleh Al-Obeidy hinted that while others in Iraq unequivocally blamed either the US or Iran for instability, Sadr would choose a middle path.

“We believe that both are behind this ruin, and Sadr is trying to balance between the two,” he said.

Harith Hasan of the Carnegie Middle East Center said Sadr was trying to sustain his “multiple identities” by backing various protests.

“On the one hand, (he seeks to) position himself as the leader of a reform movement, as a populist, as anti-establishment,” Hasan told AFP.

“On the other hand, he also wants to sustain his image as the leader of the resistance to the ‘American occupation’,” partly to win favor with Iran.
Sadr may also have domestic motivations, Hasan said.

“This protest will show Sadr is still the one able to mobilize large groups of people in the streets — but it’s also possible he wants other groups to respond by giving him more space to choose the prime minister.”