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.


Erdogan-Davutoglu standoff before launch of splinter party

Updated 24 min 16 sec ago

Erdogan-Davutoglu standoff before launch of splinter party

  • Davutoglu is among the founders of the university being built on land in Istanbul’s Asian sector

ANKARA: Turkish domestic politics has seen intense infighting over the weekend between two leaders who were once close allies.

Former prime minister and architect of Turkey’s “zero problem policy with neighbors,” Ahmet Davutoglu, who is preparing to launch his opposition party, was called “fraudulent” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday.

Erdogan accused his former allies — Davutoglu as well as former deputy prime ministers Ali Babacan and Mehmet Simsek — of swindling state-run Halkbank by not making payments in time and by inappropriately allocating public land to Sehir University.

Babacan and Simsek are also expected to start another opposition party by the end of the year, which is believed to have liberal leanings.

Davutoglu is among the founders of the university being built on land in Istanbul’s Asian sector.

“They are not sincere people,” Erdogan said. “We allocated the land for the university just because we cared for them. How could I allot such a precious land otherwise?”

Around midnight, Davutoglu released a harshly worded press statement hitting back and called on the Turkish Parliament to investigate the wealth of the president and his family as well as that of high-ranking officials.

Davutoglu insists that the land for his university was allocated lawfully. The standoff is mostly seen as political revenge, not a legal conflict, especially as Davutoglu’s new party is expected to be announced within days.

The assets of Sehir University were recently frozen by a court order after Halkbank claimed that the university might not be able to pay back the $70 million credit it had taken. Sehir, which has more than 7,000 students, will be turned over to state-run Marmara University and hosts many foreigners from the Gulf region with their future at stake.

Davutoglu’s splinter party against Erdogan is set to launch within days at a press conference in Ankara.

The party, whose name has not been announced, intends to appeal to some of the disillusioned voters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but also other segments including Kurds and Alevis.

Davutoglu has recently increased his criticism of the government, focusing on backpedaling on the rule of law, freedoms and rights.

According to a high-level official from the council of founders of Davutoglu’s incoming party, the latest row between Erdogan and Davutoglu would benefit the latter.

“It has created a feeling of victimhood among public opinion, and many people started to question the timing of this accusation and why this issue didn’t make headlines before. It is a political showdown,” he told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“If Erdogan accuses his former allies of corruption and fraud, why did he insist on Babacan remaining in the party when he was determined to leave and establish his own party? It is also unfortunate to target an educational institution for trying to weaken an incoming political party.”

Davutoglu, a former academic, was forced to resign his post in 2016 over his disagreements with Erdogan. Davutoglu and the council of founders will disclose their wealth with the legal foundation of the party, and this step is expected to bring them more support from the public, which attaches importance to transparency in politicians.

According to a survey carried out by the Turkish polling firm Metropoll during Oct. 20-26 via interviews with 1,669 people in 28 provinces, 74 percent of AKP voters expressed themselves “loyal” to Erdogan. Over the past year, AKP has lost 10 percent of its members, say official figures.

Another survey by Ankara-based research company ORC showed that in a general election, 8.5 percent of the respondents would support Davutoglu.

To gain seats in the Parliament, new parties prefer to form coalitions with others that are more established to pass the 10 percent threshold. Davutoglu has been meeting politicians over recent months, especially Temel Karamollaoglu, the head of the Islamist opposition Felicity Party, which is represented in the Parliament.