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Wednesday 20 June 2018

Iraqis protest at government corruption

Protesters gather in Tahrir Square in Baghdad over government corruption (AP)
Protesters gather in Tahrir Square in Baghdad over government corruption (AP)

Thousands of Iraqis have staged a huge protest in central Baghdad calling on the prime minister to dissolve the parliament and sack corrupt government officials.

Security forces and riot police sealed off Iraq's Tahrir Square and searched anyone who entered the area, but tens of thousands of men, women and children thronged the sprawling square, waving Iraqi flags.

Men with the government-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU), the umbrella group made up predominantly of Shiite militias, pulled up in trucks and handed out ice water bottles to the protesters.

Their gesture was welcomed by roaring shouts in support of the paramilitary force now fighting the Islamic State group. The PMU was hastily assembled last year, with pre-existing militias and new volunteers, to reinforce the Iraqi military after it crumbled in the face of the Sunni militant blitz that seized a third of the country.

This is the second Friday of protests in Baghdad and across Iraq, with people initially calling on authorities to address the country's chronic electricity problems as temperatures in the capital soared above 50C (123F). But with little action from the Shiite-dominated government following last week's demonstrations, the call for a government shake-up intensified.

As Haider al-Abadi nears his one-year anniversary since assuming the role of Iraq's prime minister, he faces his biggest challenge yet as an economic crisis and crippling war with the Islamic State group put a choke on domestic services. Discontent is rising, even among the country's Shiite majority, with protests springing up in cities from Baghdad to Basra.

Earlier, Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani addressed the prime minister in his Friday sermon, calling on al-Abadi to quickly address internal issues in the government.

Through his spokesman Ahmed al-Safi, al-Sistani said the prime minister must be more "daring and courageous" in his steps to reform the government, urging him to strike "with an iron hand fist anyone who is tampering with the people's money".

In a televised speech, Iraq's speaker of parliament Salim al-Jabouri said that the parliament "will interrogate all the ministers in the government who the protesters demand to be questioned."

"We do not hesitate in questioning both those suspected of theft," al-Jabouri added but called on the demonstrators to "exercise their constitutional right" without turning to violence.

Press Association

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