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Firebrand cleric green-lights fresh protests in Iraq

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Influential Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr has given his supporters the green light to resume anti-government protests, after the movement was interrupted following a deadly crackdown.

Protests shook Iraq for six days from October 1, with young Iraqis denouncing corruption and demanding jobs and services before calling for the downfall of the government.

The protests — notable for their spontaneity — were violently suppressed, with official counts reporting 110 people killed and 6,000 wounded, most of them demonstrators.

Calls have been made on social media for fresh rallies on Friday, the anniversary of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s government taking office.

“It’s your right to participate in protests on October 25,” Sadr told his followers in a Facebook post on Saturday evening.

Protesters have opposed any appropriation of their leaderless movement and the firebrand cleric was restrained on Sunday in comparison to his previous exhortations for “million-man marches”.

He qualified his support by adding: “Those who don’t want to take part in this revolution can choose another via the ballot box in internationally supervised elections and without the current politicians,” he said.

His statement echoed another he made during protests at the start of the month, in which he called on the government — of which his bloc is a part — to resign and hold early elections “under UN supervision”.

In his latest message, Sadr called on his supporters to protest peacefully.

“They expect you to be armed,” he said, alluding to authorities blaming “saboteurs” for infiltrating protests. “But I don’t think you will be.”

Sadr’s influence was on display Saturday during the Shiite Arbaeen pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

Thousands of his supporters heeded his call to dress in white shrouds and chanted, “Baghdad free, out with the corrupt!”

October 25 will also mark the deadline issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader for Iraq’s Shiite majority, for the government to respond to protester demands.

Iraqi pilgrims protest corruption during Arbaeen march
Karbala, Iraq (AFP) Oct 19, 2019 -
Thousands of Iraqis chanted anti-corruption slogans during the Shiite Arbaeen pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala Saturday, responding to firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s call to keep up anti-government protests.

Amid the throngs of black-clad pilgrims mourning the seventh-century death of Imam Hussein, Sadr supporters dressed in white demanded “No, to corruption!” and “Yes, to reform!”.

Waving Iraqi flags, they chanted “Baghdad free, corrupt ones out!”

Sadr, whose list emerged as the largest bloc in parliamentary elections last year, helped Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to form his government. But on Tuesday he called on Twitter for his supporters to march in shrouds.

Iraq — the second-largest OPEC oil producer — is “a rich country where the people are poor,” Khedheir Naim told AFP.

The grey-bearded man came from the southern oil city of Basra to join the world’s largest Shiite pilgrimage, which culminated Saturday.

He denounced corrupt leaders, who according to official figures pocketed 410 billion euros over the past 16 years.

“Unfortunately, tyrants and criminals live handsomely at the expense of the people,” Naim said.

Denouncing corruption has been a primary theme of the protest movement shaking Iraq, alongside demands for jobs and functional services.

In a single week of protests at the start of the month, 110 people were killed and 6,000 injured, according to official figures.

Calls have been made for fresh marches on October 25, to mark the anniversary of the government that is the focus of public anger.

The annual Arbaeen pilgrimage sees millions of worshippers, mostly Iraqis and Iranians, converge by foot on Karbala, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

Arbaeen marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for the killing of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, by the forces of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.

Placards with anti-United States and anti-Israel messages are often seen in the crowd, though anti-corruption slogans are rare.

Despite warnings from Iranian authorities for pilgrims to delay travelling, 3.5 million people — mostly Iranians — officially entered Iraq by land borders by Friday.

Shiite Muslims from the Gulf also attended, like Saudi Talib al-Ghadir.

“It’s necessary to make the pilgrimage regardless of the situation in the country,” he told AFP.

“We haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary, even if people from the Gulf came at the last minute because of the protests.”

Last year, more than 14 million worshippers visited the gold domed mausoleum where Imam Hussein is buried.

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Iraq anti-corruption drive stops short of snaring worst culprits

Baghdad (AFP) Oct 16, 2019

Following a wave of deadly anti-government protests, Baghdad has announced a slew of measures to stem corruption – but stopped short of targeting the worst offenders.

Analysts say Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, an independent with no real popular support, is hostage to the parties that appointed him a year ago to lead one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

That makes it exceptionally hard for him to point fingers at the main culprits, they say.

Since dictator Saddam Hussein’s ouster i … read more

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