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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
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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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Adultery Law Gets Scrapped: Another Progressive Step In India

Misra is stepping down as chief justice next week when he turns 65, the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court judges. 

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A gardener works on the lawns of the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India, Aug. 22, 2017. India's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has presided over a string of verdicts in recent weeks that grant more rights to women, gay couples and religious minorities as he prepares to retire from the bench next month. VOA

The chief justice of  Supreme Court of India has presided over a string of recent rulings that grant more rights to women, gay couples and religious minorities, challenging deeply conservative Indian society before he retires next month.

In the latest decision Thursday, Chief Justice Dipak Misra and the rest of the five-member court struck down a 158-year-old law that treated adultery in certain cases as a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

The court called the law, which did not allow wives to prosecute adulterous husbands, unconstitutional and noted that a “husband is not the master of woman.” Adultery can still be grounds for divorce in India, the verdict said, but a criminal penalty violated women’s protection to equal rights under the law.

Accolades for ruling

The verdict was hailed by activists and left-of-center members of India’s Parliament.

“Excellent decision,” tweeted Sushmita Dev, a lawmaker and president of the opposition Congress party’s women’s wing. She said “a law that does not give women the right to sue her adulterer husband … is unequal treatment and militates against her status as an individual.”

India
Participants displays a rainbow flag and cheer as gay rights activists and their supporters march during a gay pride parade in New Delhi, India. VOA

Amnesty International India said the decision was “a progressive judgment” and the old law was a “remnant of a time when a woman was considered to be the property of her husband.”

The scrapped law allowed men to file charges against other men who had affairs with their wives. Women having affairs could not be prosecuted, but they also couldn’t file a complaint against cheating husbands.

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Gay couples, religious minorities

Earlier this month, the Misra-led court also struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The 1861 law, a relic of Victorian England that hung on long after the end of British colonialism, was “a breach of the rights of privacy and dignity,” the court ruled. It added that “history owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries.”

On Thursday, the court also decided not to reconsider a 1994 decision that would have delayed proceedings in a case over the ownership of the site of a mosque that Hindu hard-liners demolished in 1992.

India
Indian Muslim women talk while walking through a market in Ahmadabad, India. VOA

Fast pace for India

The court’s recent pace of decisions speaks to another feature of Misra’s tenure: expediting cases in a country where they routinely take decades to resolve.

There are 33 million court cases pending in India, government figures show.

Misra is stepping down as chief justice next week when he turns 65, the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court judges.

Also Read: What Would Be The Outcome of The Judgement on Homosexuality with BJP at The Centre?

He joined India’s highest court in 2011. His 13-month tenure as chief justice has won him accolades from advocates of disadvantaged groups but drawn unprecedented criticism from other members of the bench.

In January, the four most senior justices held a news conference against Misra, who as chief justice controls the court’s roster and decides who will take which cases, listing a litany of problems that they said afflicted the court and risked undermining India’s democracy. Misra met with the dissenting judges, who continued on the bench. (VOA)