Iraq’s Abdul Mahdi refuses to back down as death toll rises and communications are cut
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi promised yesterday to prosecute those who operate outside the law as dozens of anti-government protesters were shot dead across the country despite orders not to use live rounds.
Demonstrations broke out on October 1 over rampant corruption, lack of basic services and high levels of unemployment. Protesters want an overhaul of the country’s political system.
Instead, they were met with a violent crackdown that left almost 300 people dead and thousands injured.
The death toll is rising every day and the public blames 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.
The prime minister, 77, came to power more than a year ago, pledging to tackle corruption and unemployment. But has since become the target of the public’s anger.
“The protests have helped and will help to pressure political groups and 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 yesterday to discuss the public’s proposed reforms.
The country’s new electoral reforms are expected to 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 that was imposed in 2003. He also admitted 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, but went on to explain that authorities are forced to restrict its connection “when it is used to promote violence, hatred and conspiracy”.
Demonstrations continued yesterday in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square where protesters were met with tear gas when trying to cross several bridges. They were pushed back from the Sinak Bridge to the nearby Khulani Square, where 35 people were wounded, according to medical sources.
For several weeks security forces shot at protesters when they tried to remove barriers
that blocked a march towards the Green Zone, which houses government offices for embassies.
On Friday, authorities found a bomb under the Sinak Bridge, and carried out a controlled explosion, state television reported.
There were protests yesterday in Basra, where demonstrators began gathering the previous night with many vowing to stay until the government falls and foreign meddling in Iraqi affairs is stopped.
“According to medical sources more than 14 people were killed and dozens wounded in Basra,” Mohamad El Tai, a politician from Basra, told The National.
“We are calling on the international community and the United Nations to protect the Iraqi public in accordance with Article VII of the international charter and the Statute of the International Court of Justice,” the official said.
Mr Al Tai said that he has not received a response from the international community.
The United Nations mission in Iraq yesterday urged people to report any human rights abuses to their office at “the dedicated email address: humanright[email protected]”.
“I encourage anyone with information, whether witness or victim accounts, photo or video footage – to send them to us at this address,” said the UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.
“We continue to monitor and document human rights violations, cases of abduction, threats and intimidation countrywide as well as to raise them with relevant authorities,” she said.
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”.
Anti-government protesters set up barriers during clashes with Iraqi security forces in Baghdad on Friday