Iraq protests: UN calls for national talks to break ‘vicious cycle’ of violence

Photo: UNAMI/Sanaa Kareem Street scene in Baghdad, Iraq.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The UN’s most senior official in Iraq, visited protesters in central Baghdad on Wednesday, calling for “a national dialogue to identify prompt, meaningful responses to break the vicious cycle of violence” which has roiled the country during the past five days.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said she had gone to Tahrir Square to engage with the people, and listen to their concerns, as part of the UN’s continuous efforts to promote dialogue with the Government, as news reports suggest that Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, is facing growing calls to resign.

More than 220 have reportedly been killed across Iraq since the first anti-Government protests began at the start of October. Some protesters have ignored a curfew, and are demanding better public services, more job opportunities and an end to alleged large-scale corruption.

In a statement released by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, UNAMI, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert, said that the whole of Iraqi society needed to “unite against the perils of division and inaction. Standing together, Iraqis can find the common ground needed to shape a better future for all”.

She also told protesters that “no government could comprehensively tackle the legacy of the past, and the present challenges, in just one year in office.”

On Tuesday, she released a forceful statement condemning all violence saying that it was “never the answer, the protection of life is the overriding imperative.” She condemned the alarming reports that live fire had been used against demonstrators in the Shia stronghold of Kerbala, causing a “high number of casualties”. News reports say that up to 18 had died, with hundreds injured, but officials have denied there were any fatalities.

Brutal and ‘heart-breaking’ use of force against demonstrators

In a press release from a group of independent UN human rights experts released on Tuesday, they called on the Government and security forces to “prevent and cease violence immediately” against protesters, and ensure that those responsible for the “unlawful use of force are investigated and prosecuted.”

Experts said that during the earlier week of protest from 1-9 October, security personnel had used live fire, rubber bullets and armoured vehicles, coupled with the “indiscriminate use” of tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades.

Since 25 October, Iraqi security forces, particularly in Baghdad, appear to have shown more restraint than in the earlier demonstrations, however, reports continue of excessive use of less lethal means, causing injuries and some deaths, said the experts.

The situation in some southern governorates, in which armed individuals have used live fire against demonstrators while protecting political offices requires urgent attention, they added.

“We express our utter dismay at the use of excessive force and violence by Iraqi security forces and other armed elements against demonstrators,” said the experts. “It is incomprehensible – and heart-breaking – that such a brutal response can be levelled against Iraqis simply wanting to express their rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”

“The Iraqi State has a duty to protect those exercising their right to peaceful assembly, including from violent non-state actors”, they concluded.

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