Iraq shuns US threat of sanctions over protesters’ deaths

Observers noted that — other than a few critical statements — the United States would remain supportive of the Iraqi state, which Washington helped set up in 2003.
Sunday 24/11/2019
In harm’s way. An Iraqi anti-government protester shows a tear gas canister during clashes with Iraqi security forces in al-Rasheed Street near al-Ahrar Bridge, November 22.(AFP)
In harm’s way. An Iraqi anti-government protester shows a tear gas canister during clashes with Iraqi security forces in al-Rasheed Street near al-Ahrar Bridge, November 22.(AFP)

LONDON - Fatalities among Iraq’s anti-corruption protesters continued to increase despite promises from the government to investigate unsanctioned use of force by the security apparatus and despite warnings from the United States to impose sanctions on individuals implicated in killing demonstrators.

More than 340 people, mostly demonstrators, have been killed since mass protests began October 1. More than 3,000 were reported wounded. The latest fatalities included incidents in which security forces fired tear gas canisters directly at the heads of protesters, Iraqi medical sources said.

A government inquiry in late October “found that officers and commanders lost control over their forces during the protests.” Iran-backed militias were responsible for deploying snipers to shoot at protesters.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was prepared to impose sanctions on Iraqi officials implicated in corruption or the death of protesters.

“We will not stand idle while the corrupt officials make the Iraqi people suffer,” Pompeo said. “The United States will use [its] legal authority to sanction corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth and those killing and wounding peaceful protesters.”

Observers noted, however, that — other than a few critical statements — the United States would remain supportive of the Iraqi state, which Washington helped set up in 2003.

Among the key demands of protesters is the reform of Iraq’s electoral system, which critics say is unfair and exposed to fraud and manipulations.

The topic of electoral reform was brought up by Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert when she met with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi November 18, a statement from the Iraqi prime minister’s office said.

The Iraqi parliament discussed a draft electoral law but the UN mission in Iraq said it “requires improvements to meet public demands.”

In a November 20 statement, Hennis-Plasschaert said: “It is the prerogative of the Council of Representatives to examine this legislation as it sees fit. However, I would like to urge the parliamentarians to act on their constituents’ legitimate demands for credible, free and fair elections.

“I sincerely hope that their choices will reflect the public appetite for a new and different way of conducting politics, restoring the hope of many Iraqis in a brighter tomorrow.”

Echoing Iraq’s public sentiment in his November 22 sermon, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stressed “the importance of speeding up the passing of the electoral law and the electoral commission law because this represents the country moving past the big crisis.”

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