Iraqi President Condemns Protest Violence as Nation Has Deadliest Week Since ISIS Fell

Barham Saleh, President of Iraq, holds a meeting with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) in New York, September 24, 2019, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi President Barham Salih on Monday condemned violence against protesters and journalists during demonstrations across the country and called on the Iraqi military to protect them.

Another 15 people were reportedly killed on Monday, pushing total deaths during a week of protests to 110 plus over 6,000 wounded, making it the deadliest week for Iraqis since the defeat of the Islamic State. 

“The youth who died in the demonstrations have left a wound on the chests that cannot be healed simply by assurances. What happened should be considered sedition and a crime which cannot be tolerated,” President Salih said during a national address on Monday.

Salih denounced the use of lethal ammunition against protesters and reminded security forces they have a responsibility to protect all citizens. 

“The right to protest and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution,” he noted.

“Our armed forces which have protected the country and the people in the most serious confrontations with terrorism, are also capable of protecting citizens and their peaceful democratic practices in conditions of peace,” he said. “They must firmly confront those who violated the constitution by attacking citizens and the security forces, and terrorizing the media.”

Salih promised a full inquiry into the use of force against protesters. The Iraqi military admitted on Monday that “excessive force” was used and promised to “hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts.”

Salih also spoke about reorganizing the Iraqi government, implementing reforms against corruption, and fixing what the protesters regard as a broken electoral system.

Monday night was exceptionally violent because protests spread into Sadr City, a district of Baghdad noted for poverty, poor infrastructure, political unrest, and a maze of narrow alleys that complicates the task of security forces. Many of Sadr City’s residents are loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, an influential cleric who has called for the government in Baghdad to step down.

Tuesday brought some hopeful signs of renewed stability in Baghdad as the central “Green Zone,” where many government offices and foreign embassies are located, was reopened after two days and Internet service was restored. 

The government said Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi held productive meetings with protest leaders over the weekend, after which “the situation stabilized and life returned to normal” around the Green Zone.

The government of Iran did what it could to destabilize the situation, denouncing the protesters as saboteurs manipulated by foreign parties into undermining the close relationship between Tehran and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, as reported by Al Jazeera on Tuesday:

A string of Iranian officials have since come out with statements accusing their country’s arch-foes of being behind the unrest.

“Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective,” supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on his office’s Twitter account.

“Iran and Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together…This bond will grow stronger day by day,” it said.

State news agency IRNA said the supreme leader was reacting to the violence in Iraq.

The official news agency weighed in with its own commentary, accusing the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel of stirring the Iraqi protests in order to spoil Iran’s ties with Iraq and Syria.

“Unprecedented protests in Iraqi cities… show that some forces inside and outside of the region are seriously concerned about the closeness and cooperation” of Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus, it added.

An Iranian government spokesman on Monday dismissed the protesters as “ill-wishers who seek to sabotage any opening between us and those neighbors who have had differences of opinions in recent years” and advised the Iraqi people to “show more self-restraint.”

Other Iranian officials insinuated the protests were part of a plot to disrupt a major Shiite pilgrimage, the annual 40-day period of mourning for the Shiite’s revered Imam Hussein Ali, who was killed in the Iraqi city of Karbala in the 7th Century. The Iranians accused “seditionists” of attempting to “overshadow” the pilgrimage and claimed to have evidence the protests were orchestrated as an attack on the Shiite religion by the United States, Israel, and the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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