Talks in Baghdad as violence hits Iraq’s shrine cities

Students take part in a march to mourn protesters killed in anti-government rallies in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on December 1, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Talks in Baghdad as violence hits Iraq’s shrine cities

  • Najaf has been a flashpoint since protesters torched the Iranian consulate in the city last Wednesday
  • In the shrine city of Karbala, renewed street clashes between protesters and security forces raged late into the night

NAJAF: Iraq’s politicians gathered in Baghdad on Tuesday to discuss a way out of two months of protests that brought down the previous government, as violence hit two Shiite shrine cities.
In Najaf, seat of Iraq’s Shiite religious leadership, anti-government demonstrators gathered late into the night around the tomb of a cleric who founded a Shiite party, an AFP correspondent reported.
Armed men in civilian clothes who were guarding the tomb were seen firing shotguns and tear gas at protesters, but medics could not provide an immediate casualty toll.
It is part of a larger complex that has been surrounded for days by demonstrators denouncing the rule of an entrenched political elite.
Najaf has been a flashpoint since protesters torched the Iranian consulate in the city last Wednesday, accusing Iraq’s eastern neighbor of propping up a corrupt government in Baghdad.
Around two dozen protesters have died since, and the governor has called on the central government to put an end to the violence.
Influential tribal dignitaries have also tried to mediate and on Tuesday they called on populist cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Saraya Al-Salam (Peace Brigades) to intervene, according to a statement by Sadr’s office.
He has yet to respond.
Sadr was a key sponsor of outgoing prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi after having won the lion’s share of seats in parliament in a May 2018 general election.
But he backed the protests early on and instructed his fighters to “protect” demonstrators from security forces.
In the shrine city of Karbala, renewed street clashes between protesters and security forces raged late into the night, an AFP correspondent reported.
Riot police fired live rounds and tear gas at the crowds.
Protests also continued in other parts of the south against the central government and Iran, whose pointman for Iraqi affairs Qasem Soleimani is in Iraq for talks.
Political factions were meeting on Tuesday to find a replacement for Abdel Mahdi and to hash out a new electoral law to oversee a snap general election.
The protesters, who have thronged the streets since early October, say they want more than just a premier and new elections.
They have also called for a new constitution and the abolition of the parties that have dominated Iraqi politics for more than a decade.


Iranian wedding party fueled new COVID-19 surge, President Rouhani says

Updated 48 min ago

Iranian wedding party fueled new COVID-19 surge, President Rouhani says

  • New cases dipped to 2,886 on Friday, bringing Iran’s total cases to more than 167,000, with over 8,000 deaths
  • Health officials have been warning of a second wave of the outbreak, but say a reason for the surge in new cases could be wider testing

DUBAI: A wedding party contributed to a new surge in coronavirus infections in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday but insisted the country had no option but to keep its economy open despite warnings of a second wave of the epidemic.
Iran, which has been gradually relaxing its lockdown since mid-April, has reported a sharp rise of new daily infections in recent days. Thursday’s toll of 3,574 new cases was the highest since February, when the outbreak was first reported.
“At one location, we witnessed a peak in this epidemic, the source of which was a wedding that caused problems for the people, health workers and losses to the economy and the country’s health system,” Rouhani said on state TV. He did not say when or where the wedding took place.
New cases dipped to 2,886 on Friday, bringing Iran’s total cases to more than 167,000, with over 8,000 deaths.
Health officials have been warning of a second wave of the outbreak, but say a reason for the surge in new cases could be wider testing. One official said about 70% of the new cases in Tehran were among those who had traveled outside the capital in recent days.
Iran has been struggling to curb the spread of COVID-19 but authorities are concerned that measures to limit public and economic life to contain the virus could wreck an already economy already reeling under international sanctions.
“In these circumstances, we have no other choice — that is, there is no second option,” Rouhani added. “We have to work, our factories have to be active, our shops have to be open, and there has to be movement in the country as far as it is necessary.”
Iranian universities reopened on Saturday after being closed for more than three and a half months, state media reported. Nurseries will reopen in a week’s time, when Qur'an and languages classes will also resume, Rouhani said.