BAGHDAD: Iraq’s prime minister said on Tuesday that it was unrealistic to hold a government responsible for all the country’s corruption problems when it has only been in office for a few months.
Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the government regrets the deaths of demonstrators and security forces during the recent protests but added that “what is happening in Iraq is a comprehensive reform movement.”
Mass rallies calling for an overhaul of the ruling system have rocked the capital Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south, but political forces closed ranks this week to defend the government.
Abdul-Mahdi, who took his position last year, acknowledged that corruption has accumulated to a high level in Iraq because of what he referred to as the “oil cake.”
“Corruption is a key issue in Iraq and must be addressed,” he told a meeting of ministers and senior Iraqi officials and representatives in Baghdad, adding that the government faces cumulative files from previous governments.
He said that demonstration laws in Iraq must be approved by the interior ministry and should not exceed four hours, yet they have exceeded 40 days.
Abdul-Mahdi said the government is working through a budget allocated for the previous year, adding: “My government came to address the accumulated problems in Iraq ... The storm in the country is not over.”
But he said that the current crisis in Iraq is not related to public services.
Abdul-Mahdi said analysts predict that Iraq will enter into a Shiite-Shiite conflict, but he added: “We want the movement in Iraq only to emerge victorious.”
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Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi “deplored the death toll” among protesters due to the crackdown of the Iraqi government and urged him to take immediate steps to address demonstrators’ demands, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Tuesday.
Iraqi security forces on Monday shot dead two protesters in the city of Nassiriya, bringing to 300 the number of people killed since protests against political corruption, unemployment and poor public services erupted in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and spread to the southern Shiite heartlands.
Hennis-Plasschaert was due to attend a special parliamentary session this week in Baghdad, where demonstrators appeared bolstered by her visit and continued to show their defiance on Tuesday.
“We’re optimistic about the UN and I respect her visit to Sistani,” said one demonstrator, Ali Kadhem, 33, at the main protest site of Tahrir Square.
“Let them intervene more in Iraq. We want them here. Our people were starved, killed. We’ve been through everything.”
Security forces again sealed off Tahrir with concrete blocks, which activists had earlier pulled down, and lobbed sound grenades at teenage boys who had skipped class to protest.
“Our country is dearer to me than my only child,” read one slogan daubed on a street nearby, where the usually bustling mechanics’ shops remained closed amid the unrest.