Iraqis stage biggest rally since Saddam Hussein’s fall


Thousands of Iraqis have gathered in central Baghdad on Friday, November, demanding the resignation of the country’s political elite, in what is seen to be the biggest day of mass anti-government demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Thousands have camped out in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, with many thousands more joining them by day. Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, was expected to draw the biggest crowds yet, with many taking to the streets after worship.

Protests in which 250 people have died over the past month have accelerated dramatically in recent days, drawing huge crowds from across Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divides to reject the political parties in power since 2003.

Amnesty International said on Thursday, security forces were using military grade tear gas grenades that are 10 times deadly than ones used in dispersing protests. The government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in office for a year, has failed to find a response to the protests.

A crackdown that saw police fire into crowds from rooftops has only inflamed the anger of the crowds.

Many Iraqis see the political class as subservient to one or another of Baghdad’s main allies, the United States and Iran, who use Iraq as a proxy for a struggle for regional influence.

Reuters  has earlier reported that a powerful Iran-backed faction had considered abandoning the Prime Minister but decided to keep him in office after a secret meeting attended by a general from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. An Iranian security official confirmed General Qassem Soleimani had attended a meeting on Wednesday, saying he was there to “give advice”.

President Barham Salih said on Thursday that Mr Mahdi was willing to resign if Parliament’s main blocs could agree on a replacement.

Protesters say the move is not enough as they want to undo the entire post-Saddam political system, which distributes power among sectarian parties, giving them little incentive to reform.

“We don’t want to oust just Adel Abdul Mahdi, we want all the corrupt ones. So what if he resigns? What will happen? They will get someone worse. It is not enough. What about the rest of them? We don’t want the parties,” said one of the protesters, Mr Amir.

Protests have also been staged in other provinces as unrest continued to spread across the southern Shi’ite heartland.

Some protesters in oil-rich Basra tried to block the road leading to Majnoon oilfield and pitched a tent on Friday in support of the Baghdad protests but oil sources said operations were not interrupted. (Source: The Straits Times/Reuters)