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U.N. envoy amplifies Baghdad protestors

An Iraqi soldier gets training from an Australian sergeant in how to call for air support (ARÊTE/Cole Erickson)

The United Nations’ top envoy to Iraq assured members of its parliament on Wednesday that their role in hearing Baghdad protestors’ demands is vital to restoring stability and peace in a nation riven by war and corruption.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who serves as the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, or UNAMI, told Iraq’s Council of Representatives in Baghdad that “Iraqi people have paid an unthinkable price to get their voices heard” since street protests began in October. At least 319 people have been killed and 15,000 injured in the demonstrations.

“Legitimate, genuine demands deserve meaningful responses and active engagement, both in this House and on the streets,” said Hennis-Plasschaert, who won election to European Parliament before serving as a Dutch defense minister and lawmaker.

She emphasized in her statement to the council presidency and heads of parliamentary blocs that protesters have “a wide spectrum” of legitimate complaints: “an end to corruption, economic growth, employment, reliable public services, prudent and impartial governance, credible elections — as well as a broader reform of the political system, including amendments to the Constitution.”

Above all, she said, Iraqis want a brighter future, living in a country that realizes its full potential for the benefit of all citizens. “Despite the many promises,” she added, “the harsh reality is that we continue to receive daily reports of new killings, new kidnappings, new arbitrary arrests, new beatings and new threats. I have said it many times and I will do so again: violence only breeds violence. It should stop, and it should stop now.”

Human rights violations

Just a week earlier, UNAMI cited serious human rights violations and abuses by officials responding to a second wave of street demonstrations in Iraq starting on Oct. 25. The report added to similar concerns over treatment of protesters earlier in the month.

At least 16 of the deaths and many serious injuries occurred because security forces struck demonstrators with tear gas canisters or with sound and flash devices for which Danielle Bell, chief of UNAMI’s human rights office, said there was “no justification.”

Many of the anti-government protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and in southern Iraq have economic complaints about Iraq’s political leaders, but they also bear long-held beliefs that Iran exerts too much influence in Iraq through ties to Shiite political parties and militias.

The protests in early October, in which Iraqi security forces, including snipers, killed 150 people, involved an outpouring of anger at Iran and its allies for violence in Iraq’s southern city of Basra last year. The resumption of protests in late October have killed at least 110 people.

“Although Iraqi security forces displayed more restraint than in the early October protests, particularly in Baghdad,” UNAMI said in the report, “the unlawful use of lethal and less-lethal weapons by security forces and armed elements requires urgent attention.”

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