Wednesday, October 9, 2019

PM Abdul Mahdi Claims Deal Made To Hold Off Further Protests

(Getty Images)

There were no protests in Iraq on October 8. This was after a week full of street demonstrations and violent repression by the government. Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi claimed he made a deal with organizers, but the mounting deaths and lack of Internet could have finally taken their toll.

The prime minister’s office issued a statement saying that it had contacted all the major coordinating committees across Iraq and cut a deal to end protests until the upcoming Arbaeen ceremony is over. Arbaeen occurs from October 19-20 this year and involves the annual pilgrimage to Karbala. Still, Federal Police were deployed to Sadr City during the day to deal with any gatherings, and the Internet was cut off once more. The day before one person died of their wounds in Diwaniya, and the Iraqi forces (ISF) claimed that they were shot at in Sadr City killing one ISF and wounding others. That brought the official death count to 110, but a Health Ministry official was quoted in Al Forat that the number was really 165. Baghdad employed an iron fist as soon as the demonstrations began on October 1. The police, Federal Police, army, Counter Terror Units and pro-Iran Hashd were all used deploying heavy weapons and even RPGs against crowds. Baghdad, Diwaniya and Nasiriya saw some of the worst violence, and most determined protests. The mounting loss of lives, and the Internet being cut off might have finally marked their end. The lack of Internet has hindered organizing, and people are obviously afraid of being killed. The level of repression unleashed upon unarmed crowds was shocking.

Arab News tried to place the blame for the violence on Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force Commander General Qasim Soleimani and his allies within the Hashd. It claimed that the general arrived in Baghdad and personally help coordinate the crackdown employing Badr, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, Sayid al-Shuhada, and Saraya Al-Khorasani. It was obvious that the Hashd were deployed early on against the protests. There were reports of unknown gunmen raiding hospitals arresting people, mortar fire on Sadr City, snipers across the capital, and raids upon six TV stations. Those all bore the marks of these types of groups. At the same time, there were plenty of examples of the police and army gunning down people in the streets. The Arab News article might have been an attempt by members of the establishment security forces to put the blame for all the bloodshed upon Iran and its allies to escape responsibility. There were already signs of this earlier such as when the Interior Ministry claimed it had nothing to do with using live ammo.

On the political front parliament met to go over the cabinet’s concessions. October 6 the government announced a 17 point program to appease demonstrators. October 8, lawmakers voted to suspend the provincial councils until next year’s elections. That would require legislation however to be implemented. MPs also passed resolutions saying they would set up funds to compensate people killed and benefits for the unemployed. These come too little and too late to make any differences. It also shows the inability of the political class to make any serious reforms. Putting more people on welfare for example, doesn’t solve the problem that the Iraqi economy can’t provide enough employment for its growing and youthful population because it is dependent upon oil and public workers.

Finally, the U.S. State Department issued a statement calling for restraint and accountability by the Iraqi forces. This comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned PM Abdul Mahdi saying that Washington stood behind his government and the ISF. These contacts came as the protests were ending and the body count had passed 100 showing that the Trump Administration had no real problem with the tactics employed to put them down.

SOURCES

Bas News, “Abdul Mahdi Office: Agreement to suspend demonstrations beyond Arbaeen,” 10/8/19
- “Iraqi Parliament Halts Provincial, Municipality Councils’ Activity,” 10/8/19

Ebraheem, Mohammed, “One more Iraqi protester dies of bullet wounds sustained in Qadisiyyah rally,” Iraqi News, 10/8/19

Al Forat, “Parliament votes on the recommendations of the demands of the demonstrators and the abolition of the offices of inspectors general,” 10/8/19
- “Return of Internet service interruption in Baghdad and a number of provinces,” 10/8/19
- “Urgent Health ministry official: Death toll rises to 165,” 10/8/19

Al Hurra, “US Condemns Violence in Iraq, Calls for Government Restraint,” 10/8/19

Reuters, “Protests resume in Iraq’s Sadr City as uprising enters second week,” 10/8/19

Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Iranian general ‘played leading role’ in crackdown on Iraqi protests,” Arab News, 10/8/19

Yes Iraq, “’Pictures’ Deploying federal police units at the entrances of Sadr City coinciding with a night demonstration,” 10/8/19

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