x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hundreds of lawyers march in Iraq to protest against corruption

Demonstrations in Baghdad, Karbala, Kut, Ramadi and Amara come after Iraq's anti-corruption chief says ministers frequently cover up corruption in their departments.

Hundreds of lawyers took to the streets across Iraq today to protest against widespread corruption and unemployment in demonstrations inspired by anti-government uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The demonstrations in Baghdad, Karbala, Kut, Ramadi and Amara came a day after Iraq's anti-corruption chief said ministers frequently covered up corruption in their departments.

In the capital, around 500 people, mostly lawyers but also including some tribal sheikhs, called for the government to open up so-called "secret prisons" to scrutiny and give detainees access to legal counsel, for it to better combat corruption and for increased numbers of jobs.

"This demonstration will not end until our demands are met," Kadhim al Zubaidi, spokesman for the Baghdad lawyers' guild, told AFP.

"We want lawyers to be protected, the corrupt to be fired, and more jobs for the Iraqi people."

Protesters held up a banner which read, "Lawyers call for the government to abide by the law and provide jobs for the people," and "The government must provide jobs and fight the corrupt."

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both alleged that Iraqi security forces maintain secret prisons, where detainees are not given access to lawyers and subjected to physical abuse, charges Iraq's government denies.

About 500 lawyers and others turned up at two separate demonstrations in the city of Kut, southeast of Baghdad, to protest against the lack of basic services, such as electricity, water and sewage systems.

Sajat Hussein, a 30-year-old protester who joined about 200 others outside the Kut city court, said: "This demonstration expresses the will of the Iraqi people, not just lawyers, demanding that the governor and city chief raise the level of services."

One protester at the other demonstration said the street outside his home resembled a marsh after rain because of inadequate sewerage facilities.

Iraq's infrastructure for basic services such as water and electricity have been suffering from the aftermath of the 2003-US led invasion and two decades of war and UN sanctions that came before. Corruption has been a persistent problem since dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted in the invasion.

In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Iraq's anti-corruption czar said that instead of fighting graft Iraq's ministers preferred to hide departmental corruption.

Meanwhile, in the shrine city of Karbala in southern Iraq on Thursday, about 200 lawyers and other demonstrators called for jobs, better services and their full food rations.

Rabia al-Masaudi, the head of Karbala's lawyers' guild, mocked the $12 that the government has been giving out each month to families in lieu of rations that included cooking oil, rice, flour and sugar.

"We reject this amount of money," he said, adding that MPs were getting paid $11,000 a month, while many of the six million families nationwide who depend on government rations were being paid $12 a month in place of their full supplies.

Small demonstrations also were held in the western city of Ramadi and Amara in the south.