Middle East

Iraq protests: UN and US call for reforms to help end unrest

Iraqis wave national flags at a protest in Baghdad on 11 November 2019 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Iraq's leaders have said they agree on the need for "radical reform"

The UN and US have urged the Iraqi government to stop using violence against protesters, pass electoral reforms and hold early elections.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets since 1 October to demand more jobs, an end to corruption, and better public services.

At least 319 people have been killed at the protests, where security forces have fired live rounds and tear gas.

Iraq's leaders have vowed to hold to account anyone using excessive force.

But the UN called for swift prosecutions.

After a meeting in Baghdad on Sunday, Iraqi President Barham Saleh, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi and Supreme Judicial Council head Fayek Zaydan stressed that the protests were legitimate.

They also said they agreed on the need for "radical reform" and were preparing for a national dialogue to "review the ruling system and the constitution".

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Media captionThe story behind an abandoned high-rise taken over by protesters in Baghdad.

More than a dozen people have been killed in recent days as security forces have sought to clear protest sites in the capital, Baghdad, and in the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriya.

Overnight, four protesters died in clashes outside the education directorate in Nasiriya, the semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reported.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (Unami) warned on Sunday that an accumulation of frustrations about the lack of progress in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 was "clearly perceptible", and that with the rising numbers of deaths "a climate of anger and fear" had set in.

"The Iraqi people cannot afford to be held back by the past nor by partisan interests. Rising hope asks for a leap forward," it added. "Meanwhile, the risk of 'spoilers' hijacking peaceful demonstrations is increasing and potentially derailing any attempt at genuine change.

"Time is therefore of the essence, as are tangible results."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption At least 319 people have been killed and thousands wounded at the protests

The mission called on Iraqi politicians to take a series of measures to help end the crisis.

The immediate steps were:

  • Releasing all peaceful demonstrators detained over the past six weeks
  • Initiating full investigations into cases of abduction
  • Prosecuting those responsible for the excessive use of force and other violent acts
  • Calling on all regional and international parties not to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs

The short-term measures, to be taken within two weeks, included:

  • Submitting a new electoral law to parliament
  • Implementing an executive order prohibiting any weapons outside state control
  • A public declaration by the "political elite" of all their assets

UN special representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert discussed the proposals with Iraq's most influential Shia Muslim cleric in Najaf, south of Baghdad, on Monday.

She cited Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani as saying that he "supports the conduct of serious reforms in a reasonable period of time" but is concerned that "political forces are not serious enough to carry out these reforms".

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Media captionHow tuk-tuks are saving lives in the Iraq protests

The White House also said it was seriously concerned by the deaths of protesters.

"Despite being targeted with lethal violence and denied access to the internet, the Iraqi people have made their voices heard, calling for elections and election reforms," a statement said.

"The United States joins the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq in calling on the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfil President Saleh's promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections."

Neither the US nor the UN mentioned one of the protesters' key demands, which is for the resignation of the prime minister. Mr Abdul Mahdi has said he is willing to step down once the main blocs in parliament can agree on a replacement.

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