Death toll surges to 60 as agitation in Iraq accelerates

Ahead of unrest, Iraqi Prime Minister says there is no magic solution to country’s problems

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Iraqi protesters burn objects during clashes amidst demonstrations against state corruption, failing public services, and unemployment in Baghdad

Police shot at a small group of protesters in Baghdad on Friday after three deadly days of anti-government unrest, and meanwhile Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said no “magic solution” was available, pledging vague reform unlikely to placate Iraqis. 

The death toll from days of violent demonstrations across Iraq surged to 60 on Friday, most of them killed in the last 24 hours, as unrest rapidly accelerated across the country despite a plea from the prime minister for calm.

The violent demonstrations have escalated by the day since they first erupted on Tuesday, sweeping across the country spontaneously, without public backing from any organized political group and taking the authorities by surprise.

The unrest, fuelled by popular rage over poor living standards and corruption, is the first major challenge for Abdul Mahdi, who took office last year backed by Shi’ite parties that have dominated Iraq since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.

It also comes on the eve of the Arbaeen Shi’ite pilgrimage, when as many as 20 million worshippers are expecteto journey for days on foot across southern Iraq in the world’s biggest annual gathering, ten times the size of the Mecca Hajj.

An ongoing curfew, defied by thousands of demonstrators on Thursday, saw the army and special forces deploy around central squares and streets.

Iraqis expect large protests to erupt later in the day, absent a meaningful response from politicians they accuse of holding back Iraq’s recovery from years of conflict through corruption and neglect.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he understood the frustration of the public but there was no “magic solution” to Iraq’s problems.

He called for calm and for support from lawmakers to reshuffle cabinet posts away from the influence of big parties and groups. He said a basic wage for poor families would be discussed by the government, but that no “magic solutions” had been available to fix the country.

Tension Mount

  •  Pilgrims were already taking to the roads on Friday and Iran has closed one of the border crossings used by millions of pilgrims
  •  More protests are expected in absence of a meaningful response from politicians they accuse of holding back Iraq’s recovery from years of conflict through corruption and neglect 

(With inputs from Agencies)

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