Iraqi PM-designate struggles to form new cabinet as violence against protesters continues

The government crackdown against persistent protesters appeared to escalate, including reports that security forces used hunting rifles to disperse protesters.
Sunday 23/02/2020
Volunteers prepare free food next to a poster of Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi with Arabic that reads, “Rejected by the people” during an anti-government protest in Tahrir Square, February 20. (AP)
Dead end? Volunteers prepare free food next to a poster of Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi with Arabic that reads, “Rejected by the people” during an anti-government protest in Tahrir Square, February 20. (AP)

LONDON - Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi is moving towards a parliamentary vote to approve his proposed new cabinet as violence around nationwide protests increases.

Allawi called for an “extraordinary meeting” of parliament to approve the cabinet after outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said Iraq’s political parties should move ahead with the formation of a new government by March 2 deadline or he would intervene.

In a video message February 19, Allawi said his proposed government would be “the first independent” cabinet in Iraq “without the participation of the candidates of political parties.”

Allawi pledged to have early elections free from “the influence of money, weapons and foreign interference,” although he did not say when they would take place.

The formation of a new government was delayed by wrangling over posts by rival groups in Iraq’s complex confessional political system. Delegations from Iraq’s Sunni, Shia and Kurdish parties met at the home of parliamentary Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi on February 18 to try to resolve the impasse.

Addressing Iraq’s protesters, who have occupied city squares across the country for months demanding reform, Allawi promised to “turn a new page” and re-establish trust between the government and the public.

“All of what has been achieved is a result of your sacrifices and steadfastness, so congratulations on this massive honour that the people and history will remember, congratulations on this valiant glory and this courage for you have laid the foundations for a new era in Iraq’s history,” he said.

Despite this, the government crackdown against persistent protesters appeared to escalate, including reports that security forces used hunting rifles to disperse protesters.

Video from Baghdad’s Khilani Square on February 19 purportedly showed security forces firing tear gas to disperse crowds and gunshots were reported. The head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) called on security forces to stop using hunting rifles and said approximately 50 protesters were injured from February 14-16.

“The continued pattern of the use of excessive force, with ambiguously identified armed groups and unclear loyalties, is a grave security concern that must be tackled urgently and decisively. Peaceful protesters should be protected at all times,” UNAMI Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said.

Iraqis launched an English- and Arabic-language hashtag seeking international intervention to end rifle use against protesters. The hashtag #StopHuntingUs saw Iraqis post pictures and X-ray images of bullet wounds reportedly caused with hunting rifles.

The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) said 528 protesters had been killed and 24,000 injured since anti-government protests began October 1. IHCHR said 2,800 people had been detained for protesting. A total of 17 security personnel have been killed.

“We hope #PM #designate will depend on some #advisers familiar with #humanrights instead of relying on #security leaders only while dealing with the #protests, the file that were the  #worse from human rights aspects in the last few months,” IHCHR Commissioner Ali al-Bayati said on Twitter.

IHCHR is funded by the government but operates independently. The latest figures were the first published since December.

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