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Iraq: Nearly 100 dead in five days, UN calls for end to violence

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The UN on Saturday called for the end of violence in Iraq, the fifth day of a protest movement marked by the death of nearly 100 people, the vast majority of whom are demonstrators, and who demanded the government accused of corruption.

New demonstrations took place in the afternoons and evenings in different parts of Baghdad and in cities in the south of the country.

Security forces dispersed a large rally in the east of the capital, where demonstrators faced live ammunition and tear gas, according to AFP correspondents.

In the south of the country, protesters set fire to the headquarters of six political parties in Nasiriyah. Thousands of people also marched through the streets of Diwaniya, where many shots were fired.

“Five days of dead and wounded (…) It must stop (…) I call all parties to stop and think,” wrote Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, head of the mission of the UN in Iraq, on Twitter.

– “Accountable” –

“Those responsible for the violence must be held accountable,” she added.

According to a recent report by the Iraqi government’s human rights commission, the death of five new demonstrators brings to 99 the number of people killed in five days, the vast majority of whom are protesters. About 4,000 people were injured.

Most of the protesters were shot dead, according to medical sources, who said Friday that six policemen had died since the protests began.

Born of calls on social networks, the protest movement protests against corruption, unemployment and the decay of public services in a country chronically short of electricity and drinking water, and released late 2017 – with the proclamation of the victory over the Islamic State Jihadist group– of nearly four decades of conflict.

It is the first test for the government of Adel Abdel Mahdi, in place for barely a year.

A curfew imposed in Baghdad on the night of Wednesday to Thursday was lifted on Saturday at dawn, and stores reopened in different neighborhoods. The streets leading to Tahrir Square, from where the protest started, were nevertheless still sealed by a large deployment of police and armored vehicles.

“If the living conditions do not improve, the dispute will resume more,” warned Saturday Abu Salah, 70, before the new demonstrations.

Authorities have been demanding protesters time to implement reforms to improve living conditions for 40 million people.

The youth unemployment rate is 25%, twice the rate of the overall labor force, according to the World Bank.

A meeting of the Parliament devoted to the crisis was not held as planned Saturday for lack of a quorum, the 54 deputies of the coalition of the influential Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr, first bloc in the assembly, having decided to boycott it with ‘others formations.

At a press conference, the Speaker of Parliament, surrounded by a few deputies, promised a long list of reforms, including unemployment, but these commitments were unlikely to calm the demonstrators, so much the political class is discredited.

Moqtada Sadr, whose coalition is participating in the government, resumed Friday the protesters’ main demand and called on the government to resign “to prevent further bloodshed”. He also called for “early elections under UN supervision”.

– “Anti-system” –

Spontaneous, the movement is presented by the protesters as “non-partisan”, as opposed to previous partisan, tribal or confessional mobilizations.

“Nobody represents us (…) We do not want more parties, we do not want anybody who speaks on our behalf,” said a protester Friday to AFP.

Iraqi officials, many of whom have been in business since 2003 after the fall of Saddam Hussein, have seen an unprecedented phenomenon, says Fanar Haddad, a specialist in Iraq.

“These are anti-system demonstrations,” he says, which differ from the traditional fashion shows to demand electricity or clean water, in a country that is the world’s fifth largest producer and exporter of oil.

“This is the first time”, adds the researcher, “we hear people claiming the fall of the regime”, which is based on a confessional and ethnic distribution of positions and created nepotism and patronage.

What can now satisfy them are “major changes and radical decisions, such as the dismissal of big names in politics accused of corruption,” says AFP Sarmad al-Bayati, expert in security issues.

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