Iraq’s death toll rises and unrest spreads to Sadr City

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) — At least 15 people were killed in clashes between Iraqi security forces and protesters overnight in Sadr City as violence from an uprising that began a week ago spilled over into Baghdad’s vast impoverished area for the first time.

At least 110 people have been killed in different parts of Iraq in the country’s worst violence since the Islamic State’s defeat two years ago, with protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and a government they accuse of corruption.

The spread of violence to Sadr City on Sunday night poses a new security challenge for the authorities. Historically, quelling tensions in this region is difficult, with about a third of Baghdad’s eight million people living in narrow lanes, many of them suffering poor electricity and water services as well as unemployment.

The army said earlier on Monday it would pull out of Sadr City and hand control to police in an apparent effort to ease tensions.

A Sadr City resident told Reuters by telephone on Monday that calm had returned to the streets after a night of rioting. Local fighter men are checking the damage and police are scattered throughout the neighborhood.

The unrest began last week in Baghdad and cities in the south without any public support from any major political faction.

But it has since escalated, increasing violence and spreading from cities in the south to other areas mainly inhabited by Shi’ites. The Shi’ite majority is in power in Iraq, but Shi’ites say they have been neglected for decades.

– Promises reform –

Abdul Mahdi responded with proposals for gradual reforms but failed to satisfy protesters who say security forces are using snipers and live ammunition to protect the political elite from popular anger.

A statement from Abdul Mahdi’s office said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the prime minister in a telephone conversation that he trusted Iraqi forces and supported the government’s efforts to enhance security.

“The Prime Minister reviewed developments in the security situation and the return to normal life after lifting the curfew, and confirmed the control of security forces and restore stability.”

The government has agreed to increase spending on subsidized housing for the poor, salaries for the unemployed, training programs and youth loan initiatives.

State television said on Monday the authorities had said they would hold accountable security personnel who acted wrongly in their violent confrontation with protesters. The Interior Ministry denies that government forces fired directly at protesters.

Protesters are demanding a change in what they call a completely corrupt regime and a political elite that has pushed the country back despite unprecedented levels of security since the end of the war on IS.

Many protesters accuse parties in power of having close ties to Iran, which has called for calm in Iraq.

“Iran and Iraq are two peoples whose bodies, hearts and lives are connected,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote on Twitter on Monday. “Enemies seek to divide but are incapacitated and their conspiracy will have no effect.”

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