Iraq protesters warn of escalation as death toll reaches 500

Iraq protesters warn of escalation as death toll reaches 500
Iraq protesters warn of escalation as death toll reaches 500

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Iraqi protesters have threatened escalate their anti-government movement and create "chaos" as scores of demonstrators remain missing and death toll reaches almost 500.

For approaching three months, the country has been rocked by demonstrations against the political ruling elite, which demonstrators see as corrupt and ineffective to provide public services and employment.

The threat comes as the semi-official Human Rights Commission confirmed 490 protesters have been killed in the uprising, including 33 activists “assassinated” in targeted killings.

“The death toll includes 15 members of the security forces. The total number of abductions have amounted to 68, 12 of them have been released and fate of the others remains unknown,” Ali Al Bayati, a member of the commission told The National.

The Human Rights Commission pushed the government to form a committee within the Interior Ministry to investigate the increasing numbers of abducted protesters and secure their release.

Nearly 2,800 people have been arrested since October. The majority have been released but around 100 remain in detention centres.

“There are ongoing investigations into the remaining 100 protesters," Mr Al Bayati said, "There is some evidence that shows their involvement in the devastation but the commission is attempting to release them all,” he said.

The commission has not openly blamed any group for the violence.

The UN said it had received credible allegations of deliberate killings, abductions and arbitrary detentions carried out by unknown armed men described as "militia," "unknown third parties" and 'armed entities."

The country's political crisis is now as serious as any other since the overthrow of former dictator Saddam Hussein 16 years ago, and its leaders seem ill-equipped to deal with it.

Many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education and the government has done little to address the demands of protesters.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned last month but will remain in position as caretaker. But parliament has not yet found an agreeable replacement.

The public are calling for an independent candidate, with no party affiliation to hold the post.

"We reject any candidate that came into political power after 2003 even if the person is not tied to the ruling parties," a statement by a committee formed by demonstrators said.

The protesters have declined to nominate a candidate due to the "high level of corruption in parliament and their links to Iran," it continued.

"Our revolution will continue until we win back our country."

President Barham Salih refused on Thursday to designate the nominee of an Iran-backed parliamentary bloc for prime minister, Assad Al Eidani, saying he would rather resign than appoint someone to the position who would be rejected by protesters.

Mr Salih's decision was met with criticism by Iranian-backed politicians in Baghdad for not naming their Mr Al Eidani - who was their preferred candidate.

The Hezbollah Brigades, or Kataeb Hezbollah, called the president’s move “suspicious.”

“We know that he is carrying out an American will that aims to pull the country toward chaos,” the statement said.

The group said the president had violated the constitution “by refusing to carry out his duties” to name the candidate chosen by parliament’s largest bloc.

Mr Salih on Sunday stressed the need to "respect the will of the people to implement reforms and reject any external interference in domestic politics."

Updated: December 29, 2019 04:25 PM

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