Iraq starts talks on changes to con­sti­tu­tion to bring calm as 13 pro­test­ers killed in 24 hours

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - MINA ALDROUBI Con­tin­ued on page 2-3

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.

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