Iraq forms ‘law-maintaining’ force to ‘protect’ protesters

Iraq announced on Monday the formation of a so-called “law-maintaining” task force, ten days ahead of planned protests in Baghdad.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq announced on Monday the formation of a so-called “law-maintaining” task force, ten days ahead of planned protests in Baghdad.

The move comes following a recent wave of nationwide, violence-ridden demonstrations which began in early October and has reportedly led to the deaths of at least 100 people and thousands more injured.

Security forces cracked down on protesters with widespread allegations of the use of excessive force and gunfire to deter the movement’s spread. Baghdad also implemented a curfew and cut internet access to many southern provinces where the unrest was taking place.

Violence permeated protests since they began in Baghdad and spread to major southern cities, marking the worst instance of instability since the Islamic State was defeated nearly two years ago. Many were killed by direct sniper fire.

Shortly after the protests began, Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi attempted to calm demonstrators with promises of reform and a cabinet shuffle. They failed to quell the anger of the public, who continue to call for a complete governmental overhaul amid shortages of public services, high rates of unemployment, and chronic corruption.

Despite a growing death count, demonstrations cooled. Social media activists with large followings, however, have already stated they would take to the streets in “major protests” this month in Tahrir Square in Baghdad and in several other cities.

“Our message is ... that we do not want corrupt reform,” one activist told Kurdistan 24 regarding the protests. “We do not expect the corrupt to be reformed.”

In what appeared to be a meeting in anticipation of the planned protests, the country’s top three officials held a meeting on Monday in Baghdad, with the head of the Supreme Judicial Council present.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the meeting stressed “a thorough, honest and urgent investigation into issues of violence and excessive use of force and attacks on media channels.”

The three sides discussed “the immediate release of all peaceful demonstrators and others who were arrested” in relation to the protests.

It was also decided at the meeting, according to the statement, “the formation of a committee of Iraqi experts ... to diagnose the issues of the [Iraqi] system in the political, economic, financial, legislative and cultural fields.”

These moves came after the most revered Shia cleric in Iraq, Ali al-Sistani, last week condemned the use of violence against demonstrators, granting the authorities two weeks to reveal who ordered and opened fire on protesters.

On Saturday, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC), which coordinates the nation’s many military and police forces, announced the formation of an investigative committee to probe reported use of force by the security forces.

Earlier, another respected Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, called on the government to resign and said “the executioner should not be asked to form commissions of inquiry.”

On Monday, the National Security Council held a meeting chaired by Abdel Mahdi, according to a statement issued by the PM’s office.

The meeting agreed to “form the Law Enforcement Forces Command to perform the tasks of protecting major social activities, maintaining the law, promoting freedom of peaceful protest in an orderly manner guaranteed by the constitution, and protecting demonstrators and their freedom of expression,” the statement said.

Editing by Nadia Riva