Iraqi Army To Withdraw From Eastern Baghdad District After Deadly Clashes

Nellie Chapman
October 9, 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in a phone call that he trusted the Iraqi forces and supported the Iraqi government in restoring security, without elaborating, a statement from the premier's office said.

The protests against unemployment, poor public services and corruption in the country began in Baghdad on Tuesday before spreading to the other parts of the country. Police and medical sources reported the casualties after days of violence around anti-government protests, bringing the toll in Baghdad and other cities this week to at least 88.

In remarks on Sunday, an Iraqi interior ministry spokesman denied claims that the country's security forces had clashed with demonstrators, adding that an investigation was underway to determine how protesters were shot dead during the recent unrest.

He also asserted that his government has outlined a package of reforms and measures and would continue to provide more to respond to the protesters' demands.

The unrest is the most serious challenge facing Iraq two years after the victory against the so-called Islamic State. The tear gas and live ammunition was so intense that hundreds of protesters retreated. The protests come despite calls from Abdul Mahdi for the demonstrators to stay off the streets. The chaos also has come at a critical time for the government, which has been caught in the middle of increasing tensions in the region between the USA and Iran.

He said he had given his full backing to security forces, insisting they were abiding by "international standards" in dealing with protesters.

The protesters, mostly young men, were scattered in side streets near Sadr City, according to reports.

Unrest is historically hard to put down in Sadr City, a volatile district where about a third of Baghdad's 8 million people live in narrow alleys, many with little access to electricity, water and jobs.

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An Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman says an investigation is underway to determine the source of live fire that killed numerous more than 100 people who have died during six days of unrest in the country. Troops blocked the main road preventing them from advancing and fired above their heads. Scores of protesters have been killed and thousands wounded.

Moreover, Nadhim al-Jubouri, another political analyst from Salahudin province told Xinhua that even if Abdul Mahdi is to be replaced, his successive premier will not be able to come up with needed and tangible reforms because the political process is built on ethno-sectarian power-sharing that would make the decision-making hard among the fragmented political blocs.

Meanwhile, the United Nations envoy for Iraq appealed for an end to the violence and holding to account those responsible for it.

But Iraq's semi-official High Commission for Human Rights heavily criticised the police response.

Students made it to schools at the start of the working week early Sunday and government employees returned to work.

The authorities have tried to control the demonstrations - which began five days ago - with curfews and a near-total internet blackout.

Protesters also torched the headquarters of several political parties in Nasiriya, police said. Iraq's National Union of Journalists condemned the attacks, and the harassment and arrests of journalists covering the protests.

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