UN envoy to Iraq calls for reform, end to violence against protesters

Though mass national protests in Iraq that began in October no longer top the headlines amid a recent spike in tensions after the US military killed a senior militia commander and a top Iranian general, the United Nations envoy to Iraq reiterated on Thursday that violence against protesters “must stop.”
author_image Kosar Nawzad

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Though mass national protests in Iraq that began in October no longer top the headlines amid a recent spike in tensions after the US military killed a senior militia commander and a top Iranian general, the United Nations envoy to Iraq reiterated on Thursday that violence against protesters “must stop.”

“Regional security developments should not eclipse domestic priorities and reform demands,” the envoy of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) tweeted. “The people’s voice, expressed peacefully, must be heeded.”

She further stated, “Killings, kidnappings, use of live ammunition and threats against protesters must stop; perpetrators to be held accountable.”

Widespread anti-government demonstrations began early October 2019. Wracked by violence, Iraqi security forces and Iranian-backed Shia militias have caused the death of over 500 people and wounded thousands of others in multiple major cities in central and southern Iraq.

Related Article: Iraqi activist survives assassination attempt in Najaf

At the start, demonstrators expressed long-held grievances from low-quality public services to lack of access to jobs, and institutional corruption. But their demands later grew, with them insisting on widespread reforms and the ouster of the entire ruling elite they see as unashamedly corrupt and blind to the public’s suffering.

The protests, however, have reduced in intensity since a stand-off between the US and Iran and its proxy militias inside Iraqi territory have gained momentum over the past week, raising fears of an all-out war between the two arch-foes. Attacks on demonstrators have nevertheless continued.

Militiamen of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and their supporters attacked and set fire to tents of protesters in the city of Nasiriyah recently as they reportedly refused to join a funeral ceremony for the chief of the Tehran-aligned Kata’ib Hezbollah group, Abu Mahdi Muhandis.

A US drone strike killed Muhandis and top Iranian general Qasim Soleimani and six others early Friday as their convoy left Baghdad International Airport.

This came after repeated missile attacks on facilities hosting American and Coalition troops and an assault on the US embassy in Baghdad, all of which Washington has accused Iran of directing through their proxy PMF militias.

The assassination of Soleimani prompted an Iranian retaliation early Wednesday when Tehran launched over a dozen rockets on two bases housing coalition troops. No casualties were reported, but Tehran initially reported large numbers of deaths among US forces without providing proof.

Related Article: Iran aims to kick all US forces out of the region: Rouhani

US President Donald Trump had threatened in strong terms to target sites inside Iran in such an eventuality. But, in a press conference the day after the attacks, Trump deescalated because, as he said, “No American or Iraqi lives were lost.”

Read More: Trump deescalates after Iranian missile attacks

He did, however, state that the US “will immediately impose additional punishing sanctions on the Iranian regime.”

Washington has brought successive rounds of punitive sanctions on Tehran since withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear accord between international powers and Iran that sought to curtail the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear weapons ambitions. The US measures have crippled Iran’s economy and ability to trade transparently. 

Editing by John J. Catherine