4 protesters killed as Iraqi cleric calls for quick reforms

Anti-government protesters run for cover while security forces fire tear gas and live ammunition during clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-Government protesters, in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 21, 2019. (AP)
Updated 23 November 2019

4 protesters killed as Iraqi cleric calls for quick reforms

  • Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement erupted Oct. 1 and quickly escalated into calls to sweep aside Iraq’s sectarian system

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces killed four protesters in Baghdad on Friday and forcibly dispersed activists blocking the main port near Basra, as the country’s top cleric warned nothing but speedy electoral reforms would resolve unrest.

The clashes centered on Baghdad’s Rasheed Street. Security forces opened fire and launched tear gas at protesters on a central Baghdad bridge. 

Two people died from bullet wounds and two from tear gas canisters launched directly at their heads. At least 61 more were injured.

In the south, security forces reopened the entrance to Iraq’s main port, Umm Qasr, which protesters had blocked since Monday. Normal operations had not yet resumed.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, urged politicians to hurry up in reforming electoral laws because the changes would be the only way to resolve weeks of deadly unrest.

“We affirm the importance of speeding up the passing of the electoral law and the electoral commission law because this represents the country moving past the big crisis,” his representative said during a sermon in Karbala.

 

He also repeated his view that the protesters had legitimate demands and should not be met with violence.

The fighting appeared to have begun when protesters tried Thursday to dismantle a security forces barricade on the street, which leads to Ahrar Bridge, a span over the Tigris River that has been a repeated flashpoint.

Security forces responded with barrages of tear gas and live ammunition that killed 10 protesters and injured more than 100 by Thursday evening.

The violence took off again Friday afternoon. Live rounds and tear gas cannisters were fired by security forces from behind a concrete barrier on Rasheed Street.

With their faces concealed with surgical masks, protesters ran from the scene, picking up the bodies of the dead and wounded who collapsed on their way. Plumes of smoke billowed as ammunition fire rang out in the background.

One protester was killed Friday by live ammunition, while the other two died because of tear gas, the officials said. It was not immediately clear if they died from inhaling the gas or from a direct hit by a tear gas cannister, which has caused several other deaths in recent weeks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Protesters have held one side of Baghdad’s three main bridges — Sinak and Ahrar and Jumhuriya — leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. Security forces are deployed on the other side to prevent them entering the area, which houses government buildings and various foreign embassies, including the United States.

At least 320 protesters have been killed and thousands have been wounded since the unrest began on Oct. 1, when demonstrators took to the streets in Baghdad and across Iraq’s mainly Shiite south to decry rampant government corruption and lack of basic services despite Iraq’s oil wealth.

The international community, including the United Nations and the United States have denounced the use of force against peaceful demonstrators in statements.

The leaderless movement seeks to dismantle the sectarian system and unseat the government, including Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. 

Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, health care or education.

 


Italian defense minister, Iraqi Kurds hold talks

Updated 30 September 2020

Italian defense minister, Iraqi Kurds hold talks

  • Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini: The Italian presence in Iraq is not in question, and will continue as long as it is welcomed by the Iraqi people
  • Lorenzo Guerini: I hope that the NATO mission in Iraq will be reinforced, in full harmony with the needs of Iraqi institutions

ROME: Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini and Iraqi-Kurdish officials discussed in Erbil on Wednesday the international coalition’s efforts to eliminate Daesh.

“Italy sees as a priority the fight against terrorism, and considers as essential the presence of the coalition forces in Iraq,” said Guerini.

“I hope that the NATO mission in Iraq will be reinforced, in full harmony with the needs of Iraqi institutions,” he added.

“The Italian presence in Iraq is not in question, and will continue as long as it is welcomed by the Iraqi people.”

Guerini discussed with Nechirvan Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, the security situation in Iraq. They affirmed the importance of cooperation until Daesh is eliminated.

Barzani said Iraqi Kurdistan is concerned about security developments in Iraq and armed factions’ threats against diplomatic missions.

He added that the efforts of diplomatic missions and the international coalition in Iraq are important and necessary, and that their goal is to help and support the country.

Italy has about 1,400 military advisors in Iraq, including 800 in the Kurdish region who have trained more than 15,000 Kurdish fighters over the past five years.

Barzani thanked Guerini for Italy’s continued assistance to Kurdish forces and its role in the international coalition against Daesh.

In a separate meeting with Masrour Barzani, Iraqi Kurdistan’s prime minister, Guerini announced the resumption of Italian training of Kurdish forces, which had been interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

An Italian Defense Ministry source told Arab News that the Iraqi-Kurdish prime minister reiterated the “importance of Italian and US-led coalition forces’ presence in both the Kurdistan region and Iraq.”

The source said the prime minister also stressed the Kurdish region’s commitment to supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s efforts to stabilize the country.

Guerini said the anti-Daesh coalition “must continue to carry out its tasks … with renewed determination,” and “Italy is ready to support the development of the security forces … also on a bilateral level. The key target is to prevent the resurgence of terrorist actions.”

He added: “We believe in the region’s high strategic value and in the role that Italy plays in the stability of this area.”