BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 28, (Agencies): Thousands of people took to the streets of Baghdad and cities across southern Iraq on Friday in the latest protests against corruption, social ills and political leadership. Surrounded by a cordon of anti-riot personnel equipped with electric batons, protestors in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square accused leaders of being “thieves” and “corrupt”, AFP journalists said. Several hundred people shouted “No to corruption!” and “Iran out!”.
Fourteen people have been killed in nearly three weeks of unrest as demonstrators have railed against power shortages, unemployment, a lack of clean water and state mismanagement. Adding to tensions, the country still awaits the results of a partial recount of May 12 elections, while political factions jostle to cobble together a coalition under the watchful eyes of regional powers including Tehran.
In oil-rich Basra, the southern port city where the protests began on July 8, several thousand demonstrated in front of the governorate. “We live in catastrophic conditions — we need food and water,” said 33-year-old history graduate and labourer Hassan Hantuch, one of the protestors. “No to corruption, yes to change!” proclaimed banners held up by protestors in Nasiriyah, southern Iraq, an AFP correspondent said. Protests also took place Friday in Najaf and Maysan provinces, south of Baghdad. Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for a government to be formed as soon as possible to tackle corruption and poor services as further protests took place in the south of the country on Friday.
In a sermon delivered by a representative, Sistani — who is revered by millions of Shi’ites in Iraq and elsewhere — told the incumbent caretaker administration of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to respond to protesters’ complaints. “The current government must work hard, urgently, to implement citizens demands to reduce their suffering and misery,” Sistani’s representative said in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala. Sistani’s representative said the next prime minister “must launch a relentless war against the corrupted and those who protect them”. Abadi said he supported Sistani’s remarks and guidance, according to a statement from his office.
Sistani, who rarely intervenes in politics but has wide influence over public opinion, proposed a roadmap with guidelines which the next government should follow to ease economic hardship and fight corruption. He said the new government should not include officials accused of corruption and the misuse of power, or officials who promote sectarian separation. Baghdad-based political analyst Ahmed Younis said Sistani had sent a clear message that Abadi’s government had failed to put an end to corruption or provide basic services. “Sistani made it clear Abadi’s government has failed to do the job and the new government must fix the unresolved issues. This is a really tough obstacle … for Abadi.”