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Crisis in Iraq: Troops and Protesters Clash at Green Zone in Baghdad

The gunfire and surge of protesters raised concerns about the thousands of diplomats and international officials in the Green Zone.

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Protest in Baghdad. Image source: VOA

Crisis in Iraq continues. Anti-government protests in Baghdad exploded into violence Friday afternoon as thousands of demonstrators defied heavily armed guards and concrete barriers and charged into the International Zone.

Security forces unloaded heavy machine-gun fire, stun grenades and tear gas as the crowds surged forward. But even as some protesters were forced back, others began to arrive, charging their way toward the fight.

“We will kill Abadi!” some shouted as they ran toward the zone. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has come to symbolize the face of Iraq’s failing government.

Some of the protesters broke the security cordon and ran to Abadi’s offices, determined to find him. He reportedly was not there.

As the gunfire continued, dozens of ambulances with sirens blaring raced across the bridge connecting eastern Baghdad toward the entrance of the International Zone to pick up the wounded. It was not clear whether the gunfire was being directed at the protesters or above their heads, or how many wounded there were.

The protests were the culmination of weeks of mounting anger against government corruption and inefficiency, which peaked this week when a series of bombs and suicide bombers exploded in the largely poor Shi’ite area of Baghdad known as Sadr City.

By dusk, most of the gunfire had ended and smoke was blowing across the skyline of the International Zone, also called the Green Zone. But protesters vowed to return, with their own guns.

Cleric’s followers

Many of the protesters were followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’ite cleric who has emerged as the leader of the Iraq’s struggling poor and has an almost cultlike following among those frustrated with a government and parliament seen as deeply corrupt and ineffective.

“I will do anything Muqtada asks me to do,” said Mahdi, a commander inside al-Sadr’s so called Peace Brigades.

His nephew Rabah, a policeman in Sadr City, agreed. “We are not afraid of anything because we are with Muqtada al-Sadr,” he said.

“If the government does nothing for us, we will do something,” Rabah added just before the protests erupted. “We want the government to fix the situation inside the parliament and inside Iraq.”

Members of parliament have been struggling to even gather a quorum after al-Sadr and his followers shocked Baghdad three weeks ago by entering the International Zone, storming the parliament and chasing out the lawmakers.

The cleric has demanded that Abadi end a political quota system that guarantees political parties ministerial positions and replace the current government with technocrats.

Interim step fails

Abadi attempted an interim measure by replacing six ministers. It was not enough. The parliament and the political parties could not agree, and the resultant squabbling devolved into a fight for power. The issue has been referred to the Iraqi federal court.

Many protesters have lost all trust in the lawmakers and the government.

“The political fighting here is creating huge problems and is the result of political infighting for personal gain, not out of concern for Iraq,” said Nabil Nouraddin, a human rights activist. “Politicians are not protecting their people. They are just out for themselves.”

But al-Sadr’s militiamen are not the only ones in Baghdad’s streets.

The Badr corps, one of the strongest militias in the umbrella group of Shi’ite armed militias known as Hashd al-Shaabi, has rejected al-Sadr’s attempts to force change and has flexed its muscle in response.

Badr corps members now protect their own neighborhoods and reject al-Sadr’s push.

“We need to follow the political process, the laws. Any emergency government or any government other than the current government, in our opinion, would be a disaster,” Hashd al-Shaabi spokesman and former Badr brigade leader Kareem Nouri told VOA.

Poster calling for volunteers to join Al Hussein Athar militia, Baghdad, May 18, 2016. Source: VOA
Poster calling for volunteers to join Al Hussein Athar militia, Baghdad, May 18, 2016. Source: VOA

Nouri also rejected the suggestion from some political corners — including from some Sunnis who feel they have lost all power under the Shi’ite-dominated political and security structure — for an emergency transitional government.

Some Iraq analysts see the political struggles as normal growing pains in a country new to democratic processes. But the presence of armed militias loyal to different leaders has turned that process into a tense and highly volatile situation.

Without the militias, “it would be more peaceful, more political and solved much easier, and everybody would be more ready to make concessions,” said Baghdad businessman Husam Gazalee.

The gunfire and surge of protesters raised concerns about the thousands of diplomats and international officials in the Green Zone.

Colonel Steve Warren, an American military spokesman based in Baghdad, said, “We’re fine. Same as last time. They don’t appear interested in us.”

Warren, whose words were relayed to Pentagon reporters from the Baghdad embassy, referred to the large demonstration three weeks ago.

Another U.S. military official said there had been no change to the security posture at the embassy. (VOA)

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Iraqi Kurdish Leader Claims Victory in Independence Referendum

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Iraqi Kurds
Kurds celebrate voting for Independence referendum from Iraq. (voa)

Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani on Tuesday claimed victory in the referendum vote for independence and called for a “dialogue” with Iraqi authorities, who have rejected the vote as unconstitutional.

“Instead of harassment, let’s have dialogue for a better future,” he said, adding, “Negotiations are the right path to solve the problems, not threats or the language of force.”

On Monday, Iraqi Kurdish voted on an independence referendum that drew objection from the government in Baghdad, as well as neighboring countries and the United States.

In response to the vote, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi threatened to ban all flights into and out of the Kurdish region if leaders there didn’t concede control of airports to federal authorities.

Al-Abadi said the Kurdish region has until Friday to hand over the airports or the ban will be put into place.

The referendum vote is non-binding, but Barzani said he hopes the “yes” vote will lead to increased dialogue between the Kurds and Iraqi government.

“I call on Mr. Haider al-Abadi and the others [Iraqi political officials] not to close the door to dialogue, because it is dialogue that will solve problems,” he said in a televised address. “We assure the international community of our willingness to engage in dialogue with Baghdad.”

At the polls in the Kurdistan Regional capital, many voters donned trditional clothes and carried Kurdish flags, saying they believed this vote could be the beginning of the realization of their dream for independence. (VOA)

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Actress Aparna Sen to attend 8th Chicago South Asian Film Festival

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Legendary Indian film actor and Padma Shri awardee Aparna Sen will be in Chicago this week. She is synonymous with bringing Bengali cinema closer to the masses not just in India but globally too finds an artistic proximity to Chicago. She says that the architecture of the city reminds her of a studio set from a movie.

Currently in the US, Sen has been having a very hectic schedule as her latest directorial venture, Sonata, is all set to be screened at film festivals in the US.

Amidst her busy schedule Aparna Sen takes out some time to talk to
Hi India! about her creative pursuits, the scope of regional Indian cinema in the US and of course about her love for museums and eateries in Chicago

“I have been to Chicago twice before this, and I’ve enjoyed the city hugely both times. I particularly like the downtown area with its interesting art deco architecture, its museums and eateries.” – Aparna Sen

Sen who has also directed critically acclaimed films such as 36 Chowringee Lane, that won her Best Director Award at the Indian National Film Awards is looking forward to the screening of her recent directorial film Sonata in America

Aparna Sen will be in the city to attend the 8th edition of Chicago South Asian Film Festival and is appreciative of the interest alternate Indian films have been creating in the US.

(IANS)

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India Progressing Better than US, China in Digital Healthcare

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Digital Healthcare
Digital Healthcare in India. Pixabay

New Delhi, Sep 22, 2017: India has progressed better than US and China in terms of its specialist doctors adopting digital modes to interact with patients and prescribe medicines, a study revealed on Friday.

According to the study, gap in US between the face-to-face medicines and medical representatives triggered mails narrowed down from 15 per cent in 2015 to 12 per cent in 2017. The study stated that digital channels are slowly but surely gaining ground over traditional ones. This year, the gap further narrowed to around 12 per cent.

 “India witnessed the narrowing of the gap between face-to-face tablet and medical representatives triggered mail from 34 per cent in 2015 to 8 per cent in 2017,” said the study conducted by Indegene — a company offering research and development solutions to healthcare and pharmaceutical enterprises.

The highest number of specialist who have adopted digital platform to deal with patients are Cardiologists, General Surgeons, Pulmonologists, Endocrinologists, and Oncologists.

(IANS)