Security forces must keep peace, says Iraq's top cleric

Nellie Chapman
November 11, 2019

Although the resumption has been less deadly, security sources have reported that protesters are being abducted by unidentified assailants to intimidate them.

On Tuesday night, protesters set fire to the homes of parliamentarians and local officials in Al-Shatra, a town north of Nasiriyah, according to security sources.

The bridges have become the main battlefront in Baghdad, as protesters mass around them in a bid to reach government offices and foreign embassies on the western bank.

Since defeating ISIS in 2017, Iraq has enjoyed two years of comparative stability.

The violence has left almost 280 dead, with security forces resuming their use of live rounds on Monday after almost two weeks of using volleys of tear gas, but no firearms, to push back protesters.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shi'ite-majority Iraq, held security forces accountable for any violent escalation and urged the government to respond as quickly as possible to demonstrators' demands.

"They took his life", she said, giving her name as Umm al-Shaheed, Arabic for mother of the martyr.The demonstrators, mostly unemployed youths, demand an overhaul of the political system and a corrupt ruling class which has dominated state institutions since the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

At least 270 people have been killed and thousands injured in the anti-government demonstrations throughout Iraq since October 1, according to Iraqi sources.

Authorities said that operations resumed on November 7 at the nearby Nassiriya oil refinery, which had been disrupted by protesters the day before.

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But several dozen activists, relatives of a demonstrator killed during weeks of violence, then returned to block the main gate, port officials said. Operations at the port, which receives most of Iraq's imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar, have been at a complete standstill for a week.

But the halting of fuel tankers that transport fuel from the Nassiriya refinery to regional gas stations caused fuel shortages across the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar.

He said those in power must come up with a meaningful response to the demonstrations.

The military called on the protesters to stop blocking roads and ports, saying they had cost Iraq $6 billion, and it vowed to arrest those responsible.

Oil sales account for over 95 percent of Iraq's revenues.

"We deplore the killing and kidnapping (of) unarmed protesters, threats to freedom of expression, and the cycle of violence taking place".

Anti-government protests in Iraq entered their third week on Friday amid fresh bloodshed, but leaders appeared to have closed rank around the country's embattled premier. "Iraqis must be free to make their own choices about the future of the nation", it said in a statement.

Netblocks said Wednesday that Iraq "remains largely offline".

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