Mon, Oct 07, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Iraqi PM vows reforms to end unrest

EMERGENCY:The Iraqi government issued a decree involving land distributions and said it would create market complexes and boost unemployment benefits

AFP and AP, BAGHDAD

Demonstrators burn tires during an anti-government protest in Baghdad on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s Cabinet early yesterday issued a series of reforms after an “extraordinary” session overnight in response to sweeping anti-government rallies that have left nearly 100 dead.

The Cabinet yesterday issued a decree involving more than a dozen planned reforms, including land distributions, military enlistment and increased welfare stipends for needy families.

In response to staggering youth unemployment, which has reached about 25 percent according to the World Bank, the Iraqi government said it would create large market complexes and boost benefits for those without work.

Calm yesterday prevailed in the Iraqi capital following a bloody night, when at least 19 people were killed as security forces opened fire to break up anti-government protests.

Students made it to schools at the start of the working week early yesterday and government employees returned to work.

However, the capital’s streets were mostly quiet and traffic thin. Burnt tires and debris littered thoroughfares, while security remained heavily deployed in many neighborhoods.

Armored vehicles blocked access to Tahrir Square from as far as 4km. Protesters have been trying to converge on the central square.

At least 84 protesters were killed, most of them in Baghdad, since Tuesday, when demonstrators initiated rallies to demand jobs, improvements to services and an end to corruption.

On Saturday, protesters pressed on with anti-government rallies in Baghdad and across several provinces for a fifth day, setting government offices on fire and ignoring appeals for calm from political and religious leaders.

The semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, affiliated with the Iraqi parliament, put the death toll at 94.

It said nearly 4,000 people have been wounded since Tuesday.

The violent deadlock presented the conflict-scarred nation with its most serious challenge since the defeat of the Islamic State group two years ago and deepened the political crisis of a country still struggling with the legacy of multiple, unfinished wars since the US invasion in 2003.

“It has been 16 years of corruption and injustice,” said Abbas Najm, a 43-year-old unemployed engineer who was part of a rally on Saturday in the square. “We are not afraid of bullets or the death of martyrs. We will keep going and we won’t back down.”

Amid the chaos, masked assailants stormed the office of three TV news stations in Baghdad.

Gunmen in black cars and wearing black clothes stormed the offices of Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned pan-Arab news channel on Abu Nawas Street, beat up some of the employees and smashed equipment before they fled, the channel’s Baghdad correspondent Majed Hamid said.

Hamid said the station had been receiving threats for several days.

Gunmen also attacked the offices of Iraq’s private Dajla and NRT news channels, employees at the stations said. Both of those stations are privately owned.

Scrambling to contain the demonstrations, Iraqi leaders on Saturday called an emergency session of parliament to discuss the protesters’ demands.

However, they lacked a quorum due to a boycott called by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of parliament’s largest bloc.

On Friday, al-Sadr called on Mahdi’s government to resign and hold early elections, saying the shedding of blood of Iraqis “cannot be ignored.”

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