Death toll rises amid mass protests in Iraq | News | DW | 05.10.2019

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Death toll rises amid mass protests in Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has said he would respond to "rightful demands" by anti-government protesters. Prominent Shiite cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr has called for new elections.

The death toll has risen to 93 after four days of mass protests in Baghdad and other cities in southern Iraq. Nearly 4,000 people have been injured and 540 arrested. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has described calls by anti-government protesters to put an end to government corruption as "rightful." His speech was aimed at restoring calm after days of civil unrest.

"Your demands for reforms and the fight against corruption have reached us," Abdul-Mahdi said in his speech early Friday.

"Demands to fight corruption and concern for the future of young people are rightful demands and we will respond to every legitimate request," he added, promising that his government would not make "empty promises."

At the same time, he used his televised address to call on protesters not to follow any "advocates of despair" and not to allow peaceful protests to turn violent.

Despite his speech, protests later in the day descended again into violence, with at least 17 more demonstrators killed in Baghdad. Another 190 were reportedly injured. 

Read more: In Baghdad walls come down, ushering freedom in

Government response

In an apparent concession to protesters, a governmental anti-corruption body, the Higher Council for Corruption Combat, has ordered the dismissal of 1,000 employees at state institutions who have been convicted of wasting or embezzling public money, according to the official INA news agency.

Abdul-Mahdi also pledged to try and pass a law granting a basic income to poor families, while admitting that there was no "magic solution" to the graft and poor governance rampant in the country.

The country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, later criticized leaders for not doing enough to fight corruption.

"The government and political sides have not answered the demands of the people to fight corruption or achieved anything on the ground," he said in a letter read out by his representative, Ahmed al-Safi, during a sermon in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. Al-Sistani also repeated his proposal that a committee of technocrats be established that would make recommendations on how to combat corruption. 

Another influential Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition electoral list won the largest bloc of seats in last year's election, called on his members of parliament to boycott lawmaking sessions until the government issues a program in the interests of the Iraqi people. He later called for new elections.

According to a UN spokesperson, the organization's envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called for dialogue between parties, while adding that "the interests of the country [Iraq] must be prioritized above all else."

Rampant corruption

For three days, demonstrators, many of them university students, have been protesting against perceived corruption in government and a lack of basic services and employment possibilities, despite the revenue generated by the country's rich oil reserves.

According to the World Bank, the country has a youth unemployment of around 25%. Iraq is ranked as the 12th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.

Abdul-Mahdi's government, which has been in office for a year, has failed to bring stability and order to the war-ravaged country as it grapples with the problems posed by an ongoing terrorist campaign by the extremist "Islamic State" group. Iraq declared victory over the group two years ago, but it continues to be active in parts of the country.

Read more: Nadia Murad: One woman's fight against 'Islamic State' 

tj,kp/ng (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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