Iraq protests resume as political paralysis deepens

On the street, protesters are mobilizing anew after weeks of relative calm in a movement that has seen hundreds die in clashes with security forces. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2019

Iraq protests resume as political paralysis deepens

  • Anti-government demonstrators burned tires in major cities across the south, forcing the closure of schools and government buildings
  • Negotiations over a candidate to replace premier Adel Abdel Mahdi remained stalemated as a midnight Sunday deadline expired

DIWANIYAH: Thousands of protesters blocked roads and bridges in southern Iraq on Monday, condemning Iranian influence and political leaders who have missed another deadline to agree on a new prime minister.
Anti-government demonstrators burned tires in major cities across the south, forcing the closure of schools and government buildings, AFP correspondents reported as political paralysis deepened in Baghdad.
Negotiations over a candidate to replace premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who quit in November in the face of protests against corruption and unemployment, remained stalemated as a midnight Sunday deadline expired.
While a pro-Iran camp has tried to impose a candidate, Iraqi President Barham Saleh has reportedly put up resistance.
On the street, protesters are mobilizing anew after weeks of relative calm in a movement that has seen hundreds die in clashes with security forces.
Demonstrators announced civil disobedience campaigns in the southern cities of Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Hilla, Kut and Amara, where schools and public buildings were closed Monday.
“We are upping our actions because we oppose any candidate from the political class that has been robbing us since 2003,” said Ali Al-Diwani, a young protester in Diwaniyah.
For Iraqis protesting since October 1, the system installed by the United States after it led a coalition to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 has become dominated by Iran and is beyond reform.
An economic revival promised for 16 years never came, protesters say, while more than half of all oil revenues were syphoned off by crooked politicians and their cronies.
While renewed protests risk a resumption of the violence that has already caused 460 deaths and 25,000 injuries since October, the government remains paralyzed.
Officials say Iran wants to install Qusay Al-Suhail, who served as higher education minister in the government of Abdel Mahdi.
A former key member of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s movement, Suhail rejoined the State of Law Alliance of former premier Nuri Al-Maliki, who is close to Iran and an enemy of Sadr.
While pro-Iran factions and parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbusi are pushing for Suhail, a source in the presidency says Saleh has vetoed his appointment.
Demonstrators also categorically reject his candidacy and that of anyone from the wider political establishment.
“What we want is simple: a prime minister who is competent and independent, who has never been involved with the ruling parties since 2003,” said Mohammed Rahman, a protesting engineer in Diwaniyah.
Protesters say an overhaul of the political system must start with electoral reform.
Since 2003, elections have used a complicated mix of proportional representation and list voting that favors major parties and the heads of lists.
Protesters say they want a first-past-the-post system to “guarantee a new generation could enter politics to clean up everything the ruling parties have corrupted,” Rahman told AFP.
Parliament has recently discussed electoral reform and was scheduled to resume talks Monday afternoon.
Lawmakers were also likely to continue negotiations to appoint a premier, the deadline for which has already been pushed back twice by Saleh.


World Bank approves $34 million to back Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination drive

Updated 56 min ago

World Bank approves $34 million to back Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination drive

  • Lebanon has seen daily infection rates soar to the highest levels in the region

WASHINGTON: The World Bank on Thursday said it had approved a re-allocation of $34 million in funds to support Lebanon’s vaccination efforts as it races to contain the coronavirus pandemic, marking the first such outlay of funds by the Bank.
Lebanon has seen daily infection rates soar to the highest levels in the region, with over 6,000 cases reported on Friday, adding to economic and political pressures caused by a financial collapse and a huge port blast in August.
Thursday’s re-allocation of funds from Lebanon’s existing Health Resilience Project, is the first World Bank-financed operation to fund the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
It will provide vaccines for over 2 million individuals, with doses set to arrive in Lebanon by early February, and earmarked for priority groups such as high-risk health workers, those over 65, epidemiological and surveillance staff, and people aged 55 to 64 with co-morbidities.
“Fair, broad, and fast access to COVID-19 vaccines is critical to protecting lives and supporting economic recovery,” World Bank Group President David Malpass said in a statement.
The World Bank said the decision to free the funds followed efforts by Lebanese authorities to conduct a vaccine readiness assessment, establish a national vaccine committee, and prepare a draft National Vaccine Deployment Plan (NVDP) in line with World Health Organization recommendations.
The Bank is working closely with over 100 countries to pave the way for them to receive low-interest loans and funding to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines as part of a new $12 billion initiative approved in October.