After a bloody night in Baghdad, after Iraqi security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters, Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on protesters to put an end to their rallies.
The Prime Minister of Iraq said that he was ready to meet with the protesters and even hear their demands. Hours after at least 19 people lost their lives after security personnel opened fire, Adel Abdul-Mahdi said that there were orders for the security forces not to use live ammunition, except in strict cases of self-defense.
Abdul-Mahdi spoke late Saturday as one of the bloodiest in five consecutive days of unrest unfolded in Baghdad. Baghdad has been at the crux of anti-government protests, with at least 84 deaths across the country, subsequent to the protests that began with demanding jobs and an end to corruption and now includes calls for justice for those who were killed for protesting.
The unrest is a crucial challenge for Iraq, after gaining victory against the Islamic State.
The chaos also comes at a critical time for the government, which has been caught in the middle of increasing U.S.-Iran tensions in the region. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of U.S. troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.
Abdul-Mahdi said security forces are “trying to carry out their duties” and have also incurred casualties, saying the violence has been “reciprocated.” He promised an investigation to determine who is firing live ammunition.
“We can’t accept the continuation of the situation like this,” Abdul-Mahdi told his Cabinet late Saturday in televised remarks. “We hear of snipers, firebombs, burning a policeman, a citizen.” He added that “not a political party office” or government office has been spared attacks.
“I am ready to go wherever our brotherly protesters are and meet them or send them envoys to other locations without any armed forces,” Abdul-Mahdi said. “I will go and meet them without weapons and sit with them for hours to listen to their demands.”
The prime minister said he requested “in return” an end to protests in the capital and other provinces. Abdul-Mahdi announced a list of executive decisions, focusing on providing low-income housing, unemployment benefits and vocational training. He also decreed that those killed in the protests, whether demonstrators or security, would be considered “martyrs” eligible for state benefits.
These are the largest demonstrations till today against the fragile government under the Iraqi Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi. The protesters have raised a number of problems that supposedly plague the daily life of many Iraqis, like corruption, lack of services and unemployment. The citizens took to the streets in the cities of Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah, and Basra. Many demonstrators in Baghdad were reportedly also seen holding photographs of the most famous war heroes of the country, Lt Gen Abdulwahab al-Saadi who was also the former head of the counterterrorism force of Iraq. He also led the fight to defeat the Islamic State. Al-Saadi was removed from his post last week and it also followed days of speculation that military groups that are loyal to Iran had forced his departure.
(With AP inputs)