US urges early Iraq polls, end to violence against protesters

Iran's Soleimani seems to be calling the shots in Baghdad.
Monday 11/11/2019
Iraqi protesters gather atop the abandoned "Turkish restaurant" building at Baghdad's Tahrir square during ongoing anti-government demonstrations on November 11, 2019. (AFP)
Iraqi protesters gather atop the abandoned "Turkish restaurant" building at Baghdad's Tahrir square during ongoing anti-government demonstrations on November 11, 2019. (AFP)

The United States urged Iraqi authorities to hold early polls and carry out electoral reforms and called for an end to the violence that has left hundreds of protesters dead.

Washington wants "the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfil President (Barham) Saleh's promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections," the White House said in a statement Sunday.

"The United States is seriously concerned by continued attacks against protestors, civic activists and the media, as well as restrictions on internet access, in Iraq," it said.

Mass rallies calling for an overhaul of the ruling system have rocked the capital Baghdad and the Shia-majority south since October 1, but political forces closed ranks this week to defend the government.

In a televised address last month, Saleh had proposed an early vote after reforms, but the suggestion seems to have been widely rejected by Iraq's political class.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi cast them as unrealistic and even firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, who first demanded snap elections supervised by the United Nations last month, has gone silent.

In a meeting on Sunday among the country's top leaders, the president, premier and speaker of parliament agreed on reforming Iraq's electoral system but made no mention of an early vote.

The initial fissures among the political elite appear to have closed following a series of meetings led by Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' foreign operations arm. Soleimani is seen as supervising the political jockeying as well as the crackdown on protesters. 

A source close to the top decision-makers sai that Saleh had angered neighbouring Iran by suggesting the premier could resign.

Parliament's human rights committee says that 319 people have been killed since protests first erupted, including demonstrators and security forces.

The committee said snipers were active near protest sites and hunting rifles were used against demonstrators as well. Members of the pro-Iran Shia militias are suspected to be among the snipers.

(AFP)