Thursday 12 December 2019
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US urges early Iraq polls, end to to violence

WASHINGTON: The United States urged Iraqi authorities to hold early polls and carry out electoral reforms and called for an end to the violence that has left hundreds of protesters dead.Washington wants the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfill President (Barham) Saleh s promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections, the White House said in a statement on Sunday. The United States is seriously concerned by continued attacks against protesters, civic activists and the media, as well as restrictions on internet access, in Iraq, it said.Mass rallies calling for an overhaul of the ruling system have rocked the capital Baghdad and the south since October 1, but political forces closed ranks this week to defend the government.In a televised address last month, Saleh had proposed an early vote after reforms, but the suggestion seems to have been widely rejected by Iraq s political class.Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi cast them as unrealistic and even firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, who first demanded snap elections supervised by the United Nations last month, has gone silent.In a meeting on Sunday among the country s top leaders, the president, premier and speaker of parliament agreed on reforming Iraq s electoral system but made no mention of an early vote.The initial fissures among the political elite appear to have closed this week following a series of meetings led by Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps foreign operations arm.A source close to the top decision-makers told AFP that Saleh had angered neighbouring Iran by suggesting the premier could resign. Parliament s human rights committee says that 319 people have been killed since protests first erupted, including demonstrators and security forces.The committee said snipers were active near protest sites and hunting rifles were used against demonstrators as well.The United Nations top official in Iraq and the country s most senior cleric urged authorities on Monday to get serious about reforms after anti-government demonstrations that have left hundreds dead.Mass rallies calling for an overhaul of the ruling system have rocked the capital Baghdad and the south since October 1 -- the largest and deadliest popular movement in Iraq in decades.The bloody unrest has sparked serious concern from the UN, human rights groups and the White House, which on Sunday called on Baghdad to halt the violence against protesters and pass electoral reform.After weeks of paralysis, Iraq s top leaders seem to have agreed to keep the system intact, but the UN in Iraq (UNAMI) urged them to enact a host of changes.These include electoral reforms within two weeks, the prosecution of those responsible for the recent violence as well as of corrupt officials, and the passing of anti-graft laws.On Monday, UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert met the country s highest authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf.She said the seat of Shiite religious power in Iraq, known as the marjaiyah, had stressed that peaceful demonstrators cannot go home without sufficient reforms to answer their demands. The marjaiyah expressed its concerns that the political forces are not serious enough to carry out such reforms, said Hennis-Plasschaert. If the three authorities -- executive, judiciary and legislative -- are not able or willing to conduct these reforms decisively, there must be a way to think of a different approach, she warned without elaborating.There was no statement attributable directly to Sistani, who is 89 and never appears in public.In his recent sermons, delivered by a representative, Sistani has described the protesters demands as legitimate and called for the rallies to be handled with restraint . Parliament will meet on Wednesday for a session on the current crisis, the speaker announced on Monday, adding that Hennis-Plasschaert will attend.

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