IRAQ’S PROTESTERS UNIMPRESSED BY GOVERNMENT’S PROMISES TO CHANGE
▶ Proposed electoral reforms by President Barham Salih may fail to calm the public anger that has rocked the state
Iraq has made “great efforts” to investigate attacks against peaceful demonstrators, the country’s minister of justice said yesterday as teachers announced a general strike in an attempt to revive the mass protest movement.
At least 319 people have been killed since the protests against political corruption, unemployment and poor public services began on October 1.
“We deeply regret the number of people killed and we reject the excessive violence used on protesters,” Farouq Othman said.
Iraqi leaders promised to hold accountable those who used excessive force against civilians, but protesters made it clear they thought officials were not serious about enacting reforms, saying demonstrations would continue until they see solid changes.
In Baghdad, schoolchildren skipped class yesterday and headed to the main protest area in Tahrir Square.
“Our country is more dear to me than my only child,” read a sign hanging in the square.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in the southern city of Kut to voice their anger at the government, shutting schools and public offices.
Most of the schools in the south were closed and government offices cut their hours.
Iraqi President Barham Salih submitted a draft electoral law to the government on Monday.
The draft legislation, seen by The National, calls for a 30 per cent reduction in the number of parliamentary seats and an increase in the number of voting districts.
The reforms also include the lowering of the minimum age of candidates from 30 to 25 years. Political appointees to Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission would be replaced by technocrats and judges.
The draft law also stipulates that electoral reforms should allow more young people to participate in politics to break the cycle that has prevailed since 2003.
It is not known whether these changes will calm public anger. Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali
Al Sistani, cast doubt on the pledges made by officials.
“His eminence made clear the importance of enacting serious reform within a reasonable time frame,” his office said on Monday. Mr Al Sistani said protesters should not go home until concrete steps had been taken in response to their demands.
The cleric speaks on politics only during times of crisis and has enormous influence over public opinion among Iraq’s Shiite community.
His comments came after a meeting with the UN’s top envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, in the central city of Najaf to discuss a road map to end the protests and take a series of reforms forward.
“The marjaiyah made it clear that it supports the conduct
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the southern city of Kut yesterday, shutting schools and public offices
of serious reforms in a reasonable period of time,” she said, using the Arabic name for Mr Al Sistani’s religious authority.
“Within that context, it welcomes the proposals of the United Nations, including the proposal for one consolidated electoral framework.”
Mrs Hennis-Plasschaert said the UN would monitor the government’s progress to ensure measures were being taken “promptly, swiftly and decisively because this country needs to move forward”.
Protesters sit on barriers set up by the Iraqi security forces to close a bridge leading to the Green Zone in Baghdad