Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Iraqi prime minister vows to prosecute those ‘who act outside of law’

Dozens killed in clashes with security forces in Baghdad and Basra during anti-government protests

Iraqi riot police fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters gathering on bridge in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. AP
Iraqi riot police fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters gathering on bridge in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. AP

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi vowed on Saturday to prosecute those who operate outside of the law as dozens of anti-government protesters were shot dead across the country despite promise not to use live rounds.

Demonstrations broke out on October 1 in outrage over rampant corruption, lack of basic services and high levels of unemployment. They want an overhaul of the country’s political system.

Instead, they were met with a violent crackdown that left nearly 300 people dead and thousands injured.

The death toll is rising every day and the public is blaming Mr Abdul Mahdi for imposing the violent clampdown.

“The government and judicial authorities will continue to investigate death and injury cases. We will not detain any protester but instead will prosecute them,” he said in a statement.

The prime minister, 77, came to power over a year ago, pledging to tackle corruption and unemployment. However, he has been the subject of public anger.

“The protests have helped and will help pressure political groups, the government to reform and accept change. However continuing protests must allow for a return to normal life, which will lead to legitimate demands being met,” he said.

Parliament held a session on Saturday to discuss the public's proposed reforms.

The country’s new electoral reforms are expected be announced in the “coming days”, the premier said.

Mr Abdul Mahdi said "an important government reshuffle" will be announced in response to the protests against the sectarian system imposed in 2003.

He also acknowledged that the state had blocked the internet in the country.

Protesters have expressed concern that the government is deliberately cutting means of communication with the rest of the world.

“The internet is a right for all,” Mr Abdul Mahdi said, adding that authorities are forced to restrict its connection “when it is used to promote violence, hatred and conspiracy”.

Demonstrations continued on Saturday in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square where protesters were met with tear gas for attempting to cross several bridges.

They were pushed back from the Sinak Bridge to the nearby Khilani Square, where 35 people were wounded, according to medical sources.

For several weeks security forces shot at protesters as they attempted to remove barriers that blocked a march towards the Green Zone, which houses government offices for foreign embassies.

On Friday, authorities found a bomb under the Sinak bridge, and carried out a controlled explosion of it, according to state television.

Basra protests

Saturday’s protests took place in central Basra, where demonstrators began gathering the previous night with many not vowing to leave until the fall of the government and halting of foreign meddling in Iraqi affairs.

“According to medical sources more than 14 people were killed and dozens wounded as a result of direct clashes with security forces in Basra,” Mohamad El Tai, a lawmaker from Basra, told The National.

“We are calling the international community and the United Nations to protect the Iraqi public in accordance to Article VII of the international charter and the statue of the international court of justice,” the official said.

Mr Al Tai said that he has not received a serious response from the international community.

“The Iraqi public needs to be saved immediately,” Mr El Tai said.

The United Nation’s mission in Iraq (UNAMI) released a statement on Saturday urging individuals to report any human rights abuses and violations to their office at “the dedicated email address: humanrightsiraq@un.org".

“I encourage anyone with reluctant information, whether witness or victim accounts, photo or video footage – to send them to us at this address,” the UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said.

“We continue to monitor and document human rights violations, cases of abduction, threats and intimidation country-wide as well as to raise them with relevant authorities,” she said in a statement.

The UN body said it released two reports that "outlined serious human rights violations and abuses".

It gave "specific recommendations to the government to protect the rights of peaceful demonstrators seeking change."

Updated: November 10, 2019 10:23 AM

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