Hundreds of protesters gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Friday. Photo: Halkawt Aziz/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Protesters are digging in after nearly three weeks of demonstrations despite promises of millions of dollars and government reforms.
“The protests are ongoing and they will remain so. With the hands of these rebels, we will liberate Iraq from the corrupt. The current government and the previous consecutive governments didn’t meet the specific needs of the Iraqi people,” a protestor in Baghdad told Rudaw on Friday.
Hundreds gathered in the capital’s Tahrir Square amid heavy security presence.
In the last 15 years, the government has only brought suffering, the protester explained, pointing to lack of basic services and nearly two million Iraqis still unable to return to their homes.
“Inshallah, your seats will cease to exist, as the will of the people is stronger than your will,” the protester said in a message to ruling politicians.
Iraq’s top Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Friday called for the urgent formation of a new government – delayed while a manual recount verifies results of the May 12 parliamentary election – and a new prime minister to “launch a relentless war against the corrupted.”
Current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi endorsed Sistani’s message and said he is working to fulfill the demands of the people according to his jurisdiction and available funds.
“In the initial stages of citizens announcing their demands in a number of provinces, we announced our instant response to all the legitimate demands, and we considered fulfilling the demands of citizens a strength, not a weakness, as they are sons of our nation and our goal is to serve them,” said Abadi in a statement released by his media office.
While Abadi hopes he can end the protests through some quickly-made promises, the people aren’t having it. They say they will keep coming into the streets to make their voices heard.
‘Enough with repressing protesters’
“The thing isn’t about demands. It has to do with the parliamentary system. Nobody listens to the prime minister and he can’t enforce his orders. Iraq needs a presidential system, not parliamentary,” said protester said in Baghdad on Friday.
Calling for a presidential system, the protester said Baghdad can’t do anything. He pointed to Turkish forces pushing some 100 kilometres across the border into the Kurdistan Region and Ankara reducing the water in the Tigris River.
This wouldn’t have happened under Saddam Hussein, the protester said.
“Corruption, then injustice, and then repression then [tear] gas, then beating, followed by injuries and death… with prisoners lying in the prisons of injustice,” Sadr described the situation in a poetic tweet on Friday.
Drawing on religious figures, he said, “Neither Ali, nor Hussein, not even Omer, will intercede for you. Fix the governance. The voice of the people has to be heard. Enough with repressing protesters.”
At least 14 people have been killed in the protests that started on July 9 in Basra and then spread. Hundreds have been detained.
The main complaints are government corruption, lack of transparency, high unemployment, and poor services.
Abadi has promised to pour millions of dollars into infrastructure projects and job creation.
“Frankly, the protests will continue because it isn’t enough for us that the declared plan of the Council of Ministers says it can implement the basics. Our main demand now is for all works to be strategic,” said a protester in Baghdad who said electricity and water services in the capital have decreased because supplies are being redirected to southern provinces where the protests have been centred.