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Iraq unrest persists

International | Protesters demand more than quick fixes
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 11/12/19, 05:26 pm

At least 12 protesters died over the weekend as Iraqi security forces continued to crack down on demonstrations. The unrest that began Oct. 1 shows no sign of abating as protesters call for an overhaul of Iraq’s political system and blame neighboring Iran for its role in the country’s plight.

The violence intensified on Saturday afternoon as protesters continued their near-daily attempt to cross the three bridges over the Tigris River into the heavily guarded Green Zone, where the seat of the government is stationed. Security forces killed five people with live fire, while a sixth person died after suffering a direct hit to the head with a tear gas canister. More than 100 others sustained injuries.

On Sunday, Iraqi forces shot and killed three protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya. Three others died on Friday in Basra.

Frustration over corruption and a lack of jobs and basic services grew into calls to bring down the government. More than 319 people have died since then.

Many protesters blame Iran for the poor conditions, since the country still supports many of the militia groups that mustered in 2014 to defeat Islamic State. The group now known as the Popular Mobilization Forces has become a strong political faction in Iraq, with the second-highest parliamentary representation. Protesters also accuse Iran-backed politicians of restructuring the Iraqi armed forces after the sudden removal of Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, who led the counterterrorism force, and other high-level officials.

“The Iraqi people, especially the Shias, have finally realized that the Iranian interference has a negative impact on their living, economic, and political conditions,” Shaho Al-Qaradaghi, an adviser of the New Iraq Center, told the Andalou Agency in Turkey.

Human Rights Watch reported that security forces have violently clamped down on the protests, killing at least 16 people since Oct. 25 by firing tear gas canisters directly at protesters.

Some protesters have mysteriously disappeared. Rasool Mohammed, an activist from Baghdad suburb Sadr City, told the Associated Press that four of his friends vanished in recent days: “They’re not among the dead, they’re not among the wounded, where are they? We don’t know who took them.”

In a sermon on Friday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on security forces to refrain from violence and to meet the protesters’ demands. “It is no longer permissible to procrastinate on this issue because of the great risks facing the country,” said Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalaie, a spokesman for al-Sistani.

Since the protests began, the Iraqi government has offered to roll out social welfare plans, hire more people in the already crowded public sector, and push for early elections once a new voting law is in place. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also offered to resign once political leaders agree on his replacement. But the efforts have not quelled the unrest. Protesters are calling for a complete change of the political system.

Al Hamsa Hamid told Al Jazeera he serves as a “goalie,” referring to protesters who stop deadly tear gas thrown across the river by security forces: “I’m doing it for my future children. I don’t want them to suffer like I did. And for dignity, I don’t want [Iranian-backed] militias in my country. We have a democracy.”

Associated Press/Photo by Francois Mori Associated Press/Photo by Francois Mori French Police officers evacuate a migrant from a camp in northern Paris on Thursday.

France cracks down on migrants

French police last week cleared out more than 1,600 migrants from two makeshift camps in northern Paris after the government announced tighter immigration rules.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the French government will house the migrants in state-sponsored centers as authorities process their asylum requests. The government will deport those whose applications are rejected, he added. Many of the migrants are from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

France has struggled to contain the influx of irregular migrants who spring up in makeshift tents throughout the city. The move is also political, as President Emmanuel Macron’s La Réepublic en Marche! party faces growing opposition from the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen.

Last week, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced new measures that will take effect next year to dissuade migrants from arriving, including withholding medical care for new asylum-seeking arrivals for up to three months, creating quotas for migrant workers, and closing migrant camps. Philippe said the plan will allow France to “take back control of our migration policy.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Ng Han Guan (file) Associated Press/Photo by Ng Han Guan (file) A Chinese man walks past billboards announcing the new Chinese passport in Beijing in 2012.

A line in the sea

The Philippines last week reversed its seven-year refusal to stamp Chinese passports featuring a map with a nine-dash border through the South China Sea. The department of foreign affairs said it will resume placing stickers and stamp Chinese passports as a sign of improved bilateral relations.

The ban began in 2012 over China’s new passports that displayed the self-defined border across areas of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia, among other countries.

In 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte refused to enforce an international tribunal ruling that concluded that China’s claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea had no legal basis.

Last month, Malaysia and Vietnam blocked screening access to Abominable, an animated movie produced by DreamWorks and a Chinese studio, after it showed a scene of the South China Sea with the nine-dash line. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Sumeth Panpetch Associated Press/Photo by Sumeth Panpetch Police secure a road leading to the scene of a shooting in Yala province in Thailand, on Wednesday.

Deadly insurgent attack

At least 15 people died and four others sustained injuries last week after suspected Islamist insurgents opened fire at a security checkpoint in Thailand’s restive south. The victims in Yala province include security forces and village defense volunteers.

Security officials said the attackers also set explosives and scattered nails across the area to delay any backup assistance. It was the region’s single deadliest attack in years.

Thailand annexed the three ethnic Malay-Muslim provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat in 1909. The rest of the country is majority Buddhist. Insurgency has roiled the region, killing more than 7,000 people since 2004. Separatist movements have thrived for years in the region as Muslims complain of unfair treatment in the country.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said authorities will better protect civilian volunteers as they have increasingly become targets. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Vahid Salemi (file) Associated Press/Photo by Vahid Salemi (file) Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani

In praise of sanctions

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom lauded Treasury Department sanctions on Iranian official Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani for persecuting adherents of the Baha’i religion.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is known for persecuting minorities, and the UN in August called the persecution of the Baha’i “egregious,” saying adherents live under “constant threat of raids, arrests, and detention or imprisonment.”

On Nov. 4, the Treasury Department announced sanctions on several Iranian officials including Golpayegani, citing his actions preventing the social and economic progress of Baha’i minorities.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctioned individuals were all linked to the regime’s “malign behaviors,” including “torture, extrajudicial killings, and repression of civilians.” —Julia A Seymour

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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