SUN 12 - 7 - 2020
Date: Nov 12, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Sistani backs U.N. ideas to ease crisis, worried elites not serious
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s top Shiite preacher is concerned the political elite is not serious about enacting promised reforms to defuse mass unrest and believes protesters will not go home without concrete steps to realize their demands, a senior U.N. official said. More than 280 people have been killed in protests that erupted in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and spread to the southern Shiite heartland, seeking an overhaul of a corruption-ridden sectarian political system, more jobs and functioning public services.

The government has been unable to find an answer to the unrest pitting the political class against mostly unemployed young people who see no improvement in their lives even in peacetime after decades of war and sanctions.

Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shiite-majority Iraq, Monday met Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the U.N. mission chief in the country.

“[Sistani] made it clear [he] supports the conduct of serious reforms in a reasonable period of time,” Hennis-Plasschaert told a news conference after the meeting in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

She said Sistani had welcomed reform recommendations presented to him by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq.

These include a release of all detained peaceful protesters, investigations into killings of protesters, declarations of assets by political leaders to address graft accusations, corruption trials, electoral reforms and constitutional changes to make leaders more accountable within the next three months. “[Sistani] also expressed [his] concern that the political forces are not serious enough to conduct these reforms,” she said. “Additionally, [he] stresses that the demonstrators cannot go home without sufficient results.”

The unrest is the biggest and most complex challenge in years to the political order set up after a U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Government handouts for the poor, pledges to prosecute corrupt officials and create more jobs for graduates have failed to placate protesters, whose demands include a new electoral system and the removal of all current leaders.

Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly young and unarmed protesters.

Washington also welcomed the UNAMI plan.

U.S. calls on Iraq to hold early elections

BAGHDAD: The United States has called on Iraq's government to stop using violence against protesters, reform its electoral system and hold early elections, the White House press secretary said in a statement.

"The United States joins the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq in calling on the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfil President Salih's promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections," the statement, posted Monday by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad said.

Mass rallies calling for an overhaul of the ruling system have rocked the capital Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since October 1, but political forces closed ranks this week to defend the government.

In a televised address last month, Saleh had proposed an early vote after reforms, but the suggestion seems to have been widely rejected by Iraq's political class.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi cast them as unrealistic and even firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, who first demanded snap elections supervised by the United Nations last month, has gone silent.

In a meeting on Sunday among the country's top leaders, the president, premier and speaker of parliament agreed on reforming Iraq's electoral system but made no mention of an early vote.

The initial fissures among the political elite appear to have closed this week following a series of meetings led by Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' foreign operations arm.

A source close to the top decision-makers told AFP that Saleh had angered neighbouring Iran by suggesting the premier could resign.

Parliament's human rights committee says that 319 people have been killed since protests first erupted, including demonstrators and security forces.

The committee said snipers were active near protest sites and hunting rifles were used against demonstrators as well.

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