Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Iraqi Shiite clerics call for the resignation of government as pressure mounts on Baghdad

In a video posted to Facebook, the clerics urged the protesters to keep going

A group of Iraqi Shiite clerics called on Wednesday for the resignation of the government and the revival of the deadly protest movement.

At least 319 people have been killed in the uprising against political corruption, unemployment and poor public services that began on October 1.

“The parliament must adopt radical reforms and if it cannot then it would make no sense for officials to stay in power,” populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, said.

“The demonstrations have succeeded in humiliating corrupt officials and terrorists,” the cleric said.

Following a spree of arrests, threatening messages and killings of activists, the movement in Baghdad has started to fade out.

But Mr Al Sadr, who controls the largest bloc in parliament, encouraged the public to continue protesting.

It comes as a leading group of independent Shiite clerics said the government must step down in order for change to come about.

Sheikh Ali Al Uboudi said that Iraq is in a state of chaos due to “corrupt political parties that have looted state resources.”

“What happened is seen as a natural step,” he said in a video address posted on Facebook.

Iraq “remains largely underdeveloped in all its sectors except for corruption,” he said.

The public knows that change can only come about if the political system is radically altered, said the Sheikh.

“We call on the government to resign and for the establishment of a constitutional committee that ensures state sovereignty and rights of citizens,” he said standing next to dozens of clerics.

They urged the arrest of those who used “excessive force against protesters and to hold them accountable.”

Electoral reforms must be immediately established as well as an inquiry in to political corruption that occurred since the establishment of the new government in 2003.

“The government must put forward a development plan to ensure water, electricity is provided at all times. To reopen factories and businesses to offer employment opportunities,” Sheikh Al Uboudi said.

The calls come as the United Nations envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, attended a legislative meeting in the afternoon as diplomatic pressure on Baghdad intensifies.

She will address the main political blocs and brief lawmakers on her recent meeting with the country's top Shiite religious authority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Mr Al Sistani has backed a UN roadmap out of the crisis, which includes electoral reforms and anti-graft measures within two weeks, followed by constitutional amendments and legislation on infrastructure within three months.

The 89-year-old cleric said protesters "cannot go home without sufficient reforms" but also voiced fears that authorities were "not serious" about enacting them.

Updated: November 13, 2019 07:28 PM

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