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Sun, 08 Dec 2019 13:22 GMT

In Iraq, Protests Continue Despite an Upcoming Parliamentary Session

Counterterrorism & Security

Ghada Ghaleb

Wed, 13 Nov 2019 22:17 GMT

For the twentieth day in a row, protest demonstrations in Baghdad, and a number of Iraqi provinces, have started up again on Wednesday November 13th, demanding the dismissal of the government, the dissolving of parliament, and amending the Iraqi constitution.

In the early hours of Wednesday November 13th, tens of thousands of students from schools, institutes and colleges, joined demonstrations in Baghdad and nine southern provinces, after the teachers’ union and other federal unions, announced they would join demonstrations in support of protesters’ demands.

AFP correspondents reported clashes between demonstrators and riot police in Baghdad on Wednesday November 13th, near the central Tahrir Square.

In the southern oil city of Basra, about 800 students and teachers returned to the camp outside the provincial council headquarters, after security forces broke it up last weekend.

The continued demonstrations come amid tight security, and the deployment of additional forces in the streets and squares, and in front of government buildings, banks and schools, are in anticipation of further violence.

Since October 1st, bloody protests calling for the "overthrow of the regime" have killed 319 people, according to official figures.

Security forces confronted demonstrators with live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs, but the Iraqi army denied on Monday November 11th, that any lethal effect of tear gas was used to disperse the demonstrators.

For his part, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry described the security situation in Baghdad and the provinces, on Wednesday November 13th. as calm, pointing out that there were no significant violations so far, according to the Iraqi News Agency. 

The spokesman of the Ministry of Interior revealed the circumstances of the attack on the notary building, and the attempt to burn some civil stores in the area of al-Khellani Square. He added that those who carried out the incidents were an undisciplined and vandalised group that attacked the police, injuring more than 55 officers and associates. He stressed that the police did not respond directly to the group to avoid any injuries among the demonstrators nearby.

The 7Dnews sources reported that Iraqi security forces had cordoned off Al-Khalani Square in Baghdad on Tuesday November 12th with concrete blocks. Sources confirmed that unknown elements had fired a grenade at the security forces in the square.

On Tuesday November 12th, security forces near al-Khalani Square, set up a security barrier with high concrete blocks, to prevent demonstrators from crossing into the square, and to al-Senak Bridge, after they were deployed on the roofs of nearby buildings. 

Security sources confirmed to Al-Arabiya, that a fire had broken out inside a building near the square in central Baghdad. The sources quoted sporadic clashes between security and demonstrators in the square.

On the other hand, civil activists said that the security forces deployed in the vicinity of al-Khalani Square used live bullets against the crowds of protesters stationed there, to force them to leave their places and return to Tahrir Square, which was rejected by the demonstrators, after the clashes and escapes.

Activists reported that clashes in Al-Khalani Square had continued since Tuesday November 12th, until Wednesday November 13th, wounding a number of demonstrators.

Continuing Battles between Demonstrators and Security Services 

A security source said that smoke and tear gas, and power outages, were taking place near al-Khalani Square in central Baghdad, according to Iraqi media.

In southern Iraq, demonstrators closed the bridges and brought the centre of the city of Nasiriyah to a standstill since Tuesday evening November 12th until Wednesday November 13th.

The 7Dnews correspondent also reported that additional security forces have been deployed around al-Hout prison in the province.

In Maysan province, Iraqi sources reported that demonstrators closed the official channel "Iraqiya."

The first military demonstration 

In addition, Iraqi media reported a demonstration of members of the security services in support of the protesters in Karbala.

Since the outbreak of the second wave of protests in Iraq, which lasted more than two weeks, the first "military demonstration" in support of the demands of the popular movement in Karbala, Tuesday November 12th coincided with demonstrations in other Iraqi cities, according to a 7Dnews reporter.

Dozens of police officers, and employees of the province of Karbala, went out in the first public military action to support popular demonstrations in Iraqi cities.

Security elements raised the Iraqi flag, benefiting from the call of religious authority, Ali al-Sistani, to "not return the demonstrators to their homes until the fulfillment of legitimate demands."

Alleged abduction of activists 

Iraqi activists on social media have circulated the news of the disappearance of the activist, Marie Mohammed, one of the participants in the protests, and famous for helping protesters who are demanding the fall of the regime, and the improvement of deteriorating living conditions.

Activists on Twitter said the activist had been missing for four days. Mary is the second female activist to disappear, since the protests began early last month.

Saba al-Mahdawi was the first female activist to disappear, and her fate remains unknown, after she was kidnapped on November 2nd. The operation was carried out by unidentified gunmen in three cars in Baghdad, according to witnesses, when Mahdawi was helping wounded protesters, and providing treatment services in Tahrir Square. The fate of activist,Saja Mohamed, and others remains unclear.

Amnesty International on Friday November 8th, called on the Iraqi authorities to reveal the fate of Mahdawi, saying that her abduction was part of a campaign to silence freedom of expression in Iraq.

Iraqis have also condemned the kidnapping of Mary Mohammad, from Tahrir Square and demanded that the authorities work to locate her and release her.

Some of the demonstrators have accused pro-Iranian militias of carrying out operations targeting activists, and bloggers, in demonstrations in the provinces of central and southern Iraq.

The Iraqi parliament is seeking a solution 

The Iraqi parliament has announced that it will hold a session on Wednesday November 13th, to discuss the repercussions of the demonstrations, in addition to hosting the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jenin Hennes Blaskhart.

The UN is seeking to broker a solution to the Iraqi crisis, by drawing up a roadmap, and meeting with Iraq's top Shi'ite religious authority on Monday November 11th, after political parties in the country, through the intervention of neighbouring Iran, reached agreement on the survival of the regime. 

The Kurdistan President,Nechirvan Barzani, arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday November 13th, for talks with senior officials, hours before a parliamentary session devoted to discussing the demands of the bloody anti-government protests that have ravaged the country for weeks.

On Wednesday morning, November 13th, Barzani met Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, in Baghdad.

He is scheduled to meet the President of the autonomous region of Iraq, President Barham Salih, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mohammed Halbousi, who will preside over the parliamentary session in the afternoon in the presence of Blachart.

She is expected to brief members of parliament on her meeting with Sistani and the UN position over the events.

After meeting Sistani on Monday November 11th in Najaf, Blaskhart said the Shi'ite authority had endorsed the road map presented by the organisation, which included a review of the election law within two weeks.

Sistani also gave an impetus to the street in the face of the government's efforts to break up the protests.

But the Iraqi elite seems to have lined up behind what could be called a survival strategy, to contain street protests with political reforms, and elections next year, in a bid to survive several weeks of popular anti-government demonstrations.

The proposed solution involves the survival of the ruling elite keeping power. This is unlikely to calm the protesters, who are demanding the departure of the entire political elite.

A professor of international relations at the American University, Kamel al-Sharif, said new tactics had been adopted in an attempt to limit the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in the capital, which is a crossroads that leads directly to the bridge of the Republic, which runs over the Tigris River, and where protesters have been demonstrating for weeks. 

"Security forces are working quietly to tighten the cordon on Tahrir Square, and from all directions," said Sharif, predicting that a campaign of arrests would follow, in an attempt to limit the momentum of the protests.

At the same time, Sharif believes the authorities will push for a reform plan, to calm the crowds by holding new elections, supervised by a commission that will be more independent. A parliament is also being reconsidered that would be smaller, and more representative of a diverse population.

But the crisis, according to Sharif, is that protesters' demands have become more specific, with some calling for a system led by an elected chief executive, and not belonging to the political factions that have chosen all the post-2003 prime ministers behind closed doors.

Middle East