Iraq starts talks on changes to constitution to bring calm as 13 protesters killed in 24 hours
Talks on amendments to the Iraqi constitution began yesterday as Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 13 protesters in the space of 24 hours.
The first meeting of a parliamentary committee that was formed last month to oversee the drafting of constitutional adjustments took place in Parliament, with officials hoping it will help meet the public’s demands and calm weeks of widespread protests.
Iraq has experienced massive anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad and across the mostly Shiite south since the beginning of October.
Protesters are calling for an
overhaul of the political system established after the 2003 US-led invasion.
“The committee is represented by Iraq’s three main components and all minorities,” an Iraqi official, who wished to remain anonymous, told The National.
The committee is tasked with submitting a report of recommended changes to parliament within the next few months, the official said.
Protesters have accused the government and major political parties of corruption and incompetence.
Parliament passed measures in late October that were aimed at placating the protesters but many said they were too little too late. These included reduced salaries for officials, the formation of the constitutional committee and the dissolution of all provincial and local councils outside the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region in the north.
The public is angered by reports of security forces killing demonstrators across the country and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s refusal to call early elections.
So far at least 260 people have been killed as a result of the government’s crackdown on protesters.
Internet access was cut in Baghdad amid renewed clashes in the capital yesterday. After eight people were killed during the day on Monday, security forces shot dead at least five others overnight or early yesterday, including one killed as shots were fired towards a funeral procession held for another who died hours earlier, security and medical sources said.
At least three of the five protesters killed were in the southern city of Umm Qasr, where security forces were trying to reopen a key port that was shut down by anti-government protesters for three days.
Umm Qasr, on the Arabian Gulf, is Iraq’s main port for oil exports and imported goods.
The bloodshed of the past
month has created a major divide between the government and the protesters that will be difficult to surmount, Fanar Haddad, an Iraq expert at the National University of Singapore, said.
“The political classes need to build public trust but in this they have a massive handicap,” Mr Haddad said.
Iraqi protests have routinely been met with empty promises, he said.
“Given this track record, many Iraqis are sceptical that the political classes will now do anything to curtail their own power and privilege.”
The head of the UN’s mission to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis Plasschaert, said she was “appalled by the continued bloodshed”.
“People’s frustration is not to be underestimated or misread. Violence only begets violence, peaceful demonstrators must be protected. It is high time for national dialogue,” Ms Plasschaert said on Twitter.
The British embassy in Baghdad condemned the violence against the protesters and called on the government to “ensure that all security forces protect protesters and act appropriately”.
“Peaceful protest is the right of the Iraqi people. Violence against them is unacceptable,” it said.