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Iraqi President Condemns Violence, Vows Steps Toward Reform


Iraqi President Barham Salih (file photo)

Iraqi President Barham Salih has condemned violence against protesters after more than 100 people were killed in less than a week during anti-government demonstrations across the country.

The wave of protests -- the deadliest unrest since the Islamic State (IS) extremist group was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 -- is seen as the first major challenge to Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi's government, nearly a year since he came to power.

In a televised speech on October 7, Salih also announced a series of measures to combat corruption and provide the better job opportunities and services demanded by protesters.

Iraqis have called for an end to a political system that has existed since 2003, when U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein.

Afterward, a government-appointment system was installed that is based on sectarian or ethnic quotas, rather than on merit, Renad Mansour, a research fellow at Chatham House, told the BBC.

"Aggrieved Iraqis say this has allowed Shi'a, Kurdish, Sunni, and other leaders to abuse public funds, enrich themselves and their followers, and effectively pillage the country of its wealth with very little benefit to most citizens," he said.

Salih also said that an inquiry will be launched into the deadly violence.

"The right to protest and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution," he said.

A committee of independent figures will be formed to open a dialogue with the protesters and come up with a "binding road map" to help the government fight corruption and provide better services.

Salih also proposed a government reshuffle and a review of the electoral law that meets the "national ambitions" of the people.

Late on October 7, protesters began to assemble in a mainly Shi'ite neighborhood of the Sadr City district in eastern Baghdad, where they clashed overnight with security forces for the first time. The violence pushed the death toll after a week to 110 deaths.

Mahdi earlier in the day ordered that police replace the army in the city district where a third of Baghdad's 8 million people live in narrow alleys and where electricity and water is scarce and jobs are few.

The demonstrators have been protesting high unemployment, poor public services, and widespread corruption in the country.

In its statement, the military admitted it had used "excessive force" during the protests, and said it had "begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts."

Iraq has a population of nearly 40 million people and is the world's fifth-largest oil producer and exporter, but overall poverty rates are estimated at above 20 percent of the population.

Youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, twice the overall rate, in the country.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa
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