Iraq protests swell with youth angry at slow pace of reform

University students hold a huge Iraqi flag during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad on Sunday, January 19, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 January 2020

Iraq protests swell with youth angry at slow pace of reform

  • Protesters fear Iraq would be caught in the middle of the geopolitical storm
  • ‘We want to send a message to the government: Stop procrastinating! The people know what you’re doing’

BAGHDAD: Iraqi youth angry at their government’s glacial pace of reform ramped up their protests on Sunday, sealing streets with burning tires and threatening further escalation unless their demands are met.
The rallies demanding an overhaul of the ruling system have rocked Shiite-majority parts of Iraq since October, but had thinned out in recent weeks amid rising Iran-US tensions.
Protesters had feared Iraq would be caught in the middle of the geopolitical storm and last Monday gave the government one week to make progress on reform pledges.
A day before the deadline expires, hundreds of angry young people descended on the main protest camp in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square as well as nearby Tayaran Square.
They burned tires to block highways and bridges, turning back cars and causing traffic jams across the city.
At least 10 people including police officers were wounded when security forces tried to clear the sit-ins with tear gas and protesters responded by throwing rocks, medical and security sources said.
“This is only the first escalation,” one protester with a scarf wrapped around his face said, as smoke from the tires turned the sky behind him a charcoal grey.
“We want to send a message to the government: Stop procrastinating! The people know what you’re doing,” he said, adding ominously: “Tomorrow the deadline ends, and then things could get totally of control.”
Protesters are demanding early elections based on a reformed voting law, a new prime minister to replace current caretaker premier Adel Abdel Mahdi and that officials deemed corrupt be held to account.
Abdel Mahdi resigned nearly two months ago, but political parties have thus far failed to agree on a successor and he has continued to run the government as a caretaker.
Demonstrators have publicly rejected the names circulating as possible replacements and are furious that other sweeping reform measures have not been implemented.
“We began to escalate today because the government did not respond to our demands, notably forming an independent government that could save Iraq,” said Haydar Kadhim, a demonstrator in the southern protest hotspot of Nasiriyah.
“Last Monday, we gave them a deadline of seven days. That deadline ends tonight,” Kadhim said.
A fellow protester, 20-year-old university student Mohammad Kareem, said more escalation could come.
“We gave the government a timeframe to implement our demands, but it looks like it doesn’t care one bit,” he said.
“We will keep up our movement and keep escalating to confront this government, which continues to procrastinate,” Kareem said.
Rallies also swelled in the cities of Kut, Diwaniyah and Amara, where most government offices, schools and universities have been shuttered for months.
In the holy city of Najaf, youth wrapped in checkered black-and-white scarves and carrying Iraqi flags lit tires and began a sit-in on a main road leading to the capital.
Further the south in the oil-rich port city of Basra, students gathered in an ongoing strike in support of the rallies elsewhere.
The protests are the largest and bloodiest grassroots movement in Iraq in decades, with nearly 460 people dead and over 25,000 wounded since they erupted on October 1.
While the violence at the protests themselves has dropped slightly, activists say they face an escalating campaign of intimidation, kidnapping and assassination attempts.
Young protesters are also apprehensive about a rival protest on January 24 organized by firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr in order to pressure US forces to leave.
Last week, Sadr urged Iraqis to hold “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations.”
Iraqi political figures have ramped up their calls for foreign forces — including some 5,200 US troops — to leave the country following a US drone strike that killed Iran’s revered Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and top Iraqi military official Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
Both were key brokers in Iraq’s political scene, which has been left reeling by their absence.
Iraq’s parliament voted on January 5 in favor of ousting foreign forces but the legal procedure for doing so remains murky.
Bases where US forces are stationed have been under a steady stream of rocket attacks for several months that have killed one American contractor and one Iraqi soldier.


So-called honor killing of teen girl brings outcry in Iran

Updated 27 May 2020

So-called honor killing of teen girl brings outcry in Iran

  • Iranian president Rouhani has urged his cabinet to speed up the introduction of harsher laws against such killings

TEHRAN: The so-called honor killing of a 14-year-old Iranian girl by her father, who reportedly used a farming sickle to behead her as she slept, has prompted a nationwide outcry.
Reza Ashrafi, now in custody, was apparently enraged when he killed his daughter Romina on Thursday after she ran away with 34-year-old Bahamn Khavari in Talesh, some 320 kilometers (198 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran.
In traditional societies in the Middle East, including Iran, blame would typically fall on a runaway girl for purportedly having sullied her family’s honor, rather than on an adult male luring away a child.
Romina was found five days after leaving home and taken to a police station, from where her father brought her back home. The girl reportedly told the police she feared a violent reaction from her father.
On Wednesday, a number of national newspapers featured the story prominently and the social media hashtag #RominaAshrafi reportedly has been used thousands times on social media, with most users condemning the killing.
Proposed legislation against honor killings has apparently shuttled for years among various decision-making bodies in Iran.
On Wednesday, Romina Ashrafi’s case led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to urge his Cabinet to speed up harsher laws against such killings and he pushed for speedy adoption of relevant legislation.
There is little data on honor killings in Iran, where local media occasionally report on such cases. Under the law, girls can marry after the age of 13, though the average age of marriage for Iranian women is 23. It is not known how many women and young girls are killed by family members or close relatives because of their actions, perceived as violating conservative Islamic norms on love and marriage.
Iran’s judiciary said Romina’s case will be tried in a special court. Under the current law, her father faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Iran’s vice president in charge of family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, expressed hope that a bill with harsher punishments will soon be in the final stages of approval.
Shahnaz Sajjadi, special assistant to citizens’ rights in the presidential directorate on women and family affairs, on Wednesday told the khabaronline.ir news website “We should revise the idea that home is a safe place for children and women. Crimes that happen against women in the society are less than those that happen in the homes.”