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AFP
October 10, 2019

Calm returns to Iraq

World

AFP
October 10, 2019

BAGHDAD: Calm prevailed in Iraq on Wednesday after a week of anti-government protests left more than 100 dead, prompting the United States to call on the country’s government to exercise "maximum restraint".

In Baghdad -- the second most populous Arab capital -- normal life has gradually resumed since Tuesday. Traffic has again clogged the main roads of the sprawling city of nine million inhabitants. Students have returned to schools, whose reopening was disrupted by the violence.

On Tuesday, security restrictions were lifted around Baghdad’s Green Zone, where government offices and embassies are based. Iraq descended into violence last week as protests that began with demands for an end to rampant corruption and chronic unemployment escalated with calls for a complete overhaul of the political system.

The demonstrations were unprecedented because of their apparent spontaneity and independence in a deeply politicised society.

Protesters were met with tear gas and live fire. On Sunday night scenes of chaos engulfed Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of influential Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who called for the government to resign.

At least 13 demonstrators died in Sadr City, where the military recognised "excessive force outside the rules of engagement" had been used. According to official figures, the week of violence in Baghdad and across southern Iraq killed more than 100 people, mostly protesters, with more than 6,000 others wounded. Uncertainty over the identify of the perpetrators persists, with authorities blaming "unidentified snipers". US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the violence on Tuesday.

During a call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, Pompeo said "those who violated human rights should be held accountable", the State Department said in a statement. "The secretary lamented the tragic loss of life over the past few days and urged the Iraqi government to exercise maximum restraint.

"Pompeo reiterated that peaceful public demonstrations are a fundamental element of all democracies, and emphasised that there is no place for violence in demonstrations, either by security forces or protesters."

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also called Abdel Mahdi to express worry over the violence. "I raised concerns about the response to recent protests - the need to respect peaceful protest & media freedoms," he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

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