Iraq political deal hands Abdul Mahdi a reprieve in face of mass protests

Demonstrators read books during a protest in Baghdad. More than 300 people have been killed during the recent anti-government protests in the country. (Reuters)
Updated 20 November 2019

Iraq political deal hands Abdul Mahdi a reprieve in face of mass protests

  • Demonstrators see the 45-day deadline an attempt by politicians to buy time

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s political forces have signed an agreement that will allow the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and the current Parliament to continue to operate until the end of the year. In return, they have pledged to implement a number of demands issued by protesters, including a crackdown on corruption, amendments to the electoral law, changes to the Independent High Electoral Commission and a comprehensive ministerial reshuffle within 45 days, political leaders involved in the talks said on Tuesday.
However, the announcement of the deal, late on Monday, was criticized by protesters as an attempt by the political forces to give themselves some breathing space in the hope that the protests will run out of steam.
Widespread anti-government demonstrations began in Baghdad and nine Shiite-dominated southern provinces at the start of October. Since then, more than 300 people have been killed and 15,000 injured, mainly in Baghdad, by bullets and tear gas canisters during efforts by Abdul Mahdi’s government and its allies to suppress the unrest.
Protesters first took to the streets on Oct. 1 demanding action to address corruption, high unemployment and a lack of basic daily services and amenities. This prompted a brutal crackdown by Abdul Mahdi and his Iran-backed armed allies, during which 147 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured. This temporarily halted the demonstrations but protesters returned to the streets on Oct. 24, after domestic and international pressure led to a pledge from security forces that they would not use live ammunition against demonstrators.
When the demonstrations resumed, protesters added a number of new demands, including the resignation of Abdul Mahdi’s government, changes to election law, early national parliamentary elections, and the formation of a new electoral commission.
Key Iraqi political forces, especially those backed by Iran, subsequently agreed to meet the demands of the demonstrators, with the exception of the resignation or removal of Abdul Mahdi and the holding of early elections. However, growing internal pressure from the supreme religious authority in Najaf, led by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani, international pressure from the United Nations and other diplomatic missions in Baghdad, and the high number of fatalities plus an increase in kidnappings and arrests of activists and journalists forced them to reconsider the demands they had rejected.
The political factions signed a written agreement late on Monday, after weeks of intensive meetings, stating that they will meet most of the demands of protesters within 45 days. If they fail to do so by Jan. 1, the government will be dismissed and preparations will begin for early elections, politicians said.
Arab News has seen the agreement, which was prepared and signed by leaders of the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political alliances. It includes a number of “recommendations,” the most important of which are to “preserve the structure of the state and its democratic political system, and deepen the principle of peaceful transfer of power through constitutional mechanisms.”

BACKGROUND

• Widespread anti-government demonstrations began in Baghdad and nine Shiite-dominated southern provinces at the start of October.

As part of the obligation on Parliament and the government to implement the demands of the demonstrators within 45 days, a special court must be set up to deal with allegations of corruption and prosecute the guilty, regardless of political positions and affiliations.
Iraq ranks high on the list of the most corrupt countries. The political power-sharing system in the country, which has been in place since 2004, has contributed to the spread of financial and administrative corruption in all ministries and government institutions, and has helped to protect those involved in it.
The signed agreement also states that “political forces are committed to upholding court decisions and not covering up for corrupt officials.” They have pledged not to interfere in the work of ministries and state institutions, and to work on legislation and legal amendments designed to improve the political system and meet the demands of the protesters.
Changes to election laws and the Independent High Electoral Commission, including the removal of current commission members, are among the proposed legal amendments. In addition a law will be introduced to abolish the special privileges currently granted to senior politicians and officials.
The agreement states: “Political leaders express their full commitment and follow-up to these steps, and if the Parliament or the government is unable to achieve their tasks … within the agreed times (45 days), they (the prime minister and the speaker of the Parliament) are obliged to move, through their blocs in the Parliament, to alternative constitutional options to meet the demands of the people, by withdrawing confidence from the government or conducting early elections.”
The agreement was widely criticized by demonstrators and observers, who viewed it as the latest ruse by political groups to buy themselves some time in the hope that the protesters will despair and give up.
“What is contained in this agreement is an attempt to circumvent the demands of millions of demonstrators, and has nothing to do with their demands,” said Mohammed Al-Shimary, one of the protesters. “Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political forces have given Abdul Mahdi everything he needs to legitimize his repression of the demonstrations, and keep their own privileges and thefts.
“This agreement will not (persuade the protesters to give up) and any reasonable person knows for sure that what they have pledged could not be fulfilled in years, let alone 45 days.
“They are playing with fire and will pay for it soon.”

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Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”