Dozens Of Protesters Shot And Killed By Iraqi Security Forces

Nov 29, 2019
Originally published on December 2, 2019 8:05 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Iraq's prime minister says he will resign. The announcement follows a deadly day in Iraq, with security forces killing dozens of protesters in multiple incidents. This, of course, comes after months of protests in the country.

Alissa Rubin is covering this story. She is the Baghdad bureau chief for The New York Times. Welcome back to the program.

ALISSA RUBIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: First, I have to note that Iraq's prime minister has said previously that he would resign and he didn't. Is this resignation real?

RUBIN: Yes and no. He has - he is saying this time that he is sending his resignation to the Parliament. He is sending it to the Parliament in order to comply with the urgings of the supreme religious figures in Iraq and Najaf who have urged for movement and to do something to stop the bloodletting and the - to help satisfy the protesters' demands - the peaceful protesters' demands.

The question is what Parliament does with it. I think Parliament will ultimately accept it, but they need to have a - they will need to have a caretaker leader, and they will probably need - they may need a caretaker government. It depends whether others resign with him. I don't know if that will happen.

INSKEEP: Now, what was the violence that appears to have prompted this second promise to resign?

RUBIN: Well, there was violence in several southern cities. But most notably, earlier in the week, protesters burned the Iranian consulate in Najaf. Najaf is one of the shrine cities. It's a very holy place, not a place sort of associated with violence. And protests there have gone on. There were 16 dead yesterday in more clashes there in Najaf, which is also the home of the religious Shiite - you know, senior Shiite cleric. So it's seen as a real violation of kind of the spirit of the place as well as an expression of enormous frustration.

Then, in Nasiriyah, which is actually not where Abdul-Mahdi was born - not where the prime minister was born, but it is where his family's from. He has deep roots in Nasiriyah. There was a great deal of violence for at least 24, 25 people killed.

INSKEEP: Now, as I'm listening to you, I'm hearing little clues to the broader situation here. You mentioned that an Iranian consulate has been burned in one Iraqi city. I guess that's because a major objection of the protesters is Iran's influence on their country as well as the general corruption of the government, right?

RUBIN: Yes, that is correct. There is enormous resentment of Iran's role, actually, and role in promoting political parties who are viewed as responsible for the corruption.

INSKEEP: And then you mentioned another detail - you said supreme religious authorities. I guess we should be clear that the clergy in Iraq does not have a formal political position the way they might, say, across the border in Iran, but they have a lot of influence. Have they been on the side of the protesters all along?

RUBIN: Yes, they have been on the side of the protesters. They've been very explicit that they do not want to give instructions. They didn't - today in their speech, they gave a Friday prayer and sort of a message, like, a sermon - it is a sermon - they didn't - said look; we can't tell you what to do. This is the Iraqi people's choice.

INSKEEP: There have been these protests against the government. The government has pushed back. There have been cycles of violence. But there hasn't seemed to be much movement after the violence yesterday and this announcement that the prime minister is going today. Does it really feel like the country is changing?

RUBIN: I would be very hesitant to make that prediction. There is a demand for a real change in the party system, a demand for a change in the way the Parliament is organized. That means the Parliament will have to vote for a law that essentially votes most of the current parties either out of existence or out of - certainly out of power.

INSKEEP: Alissa Rubin. We'll keep paying attention. Thanks very much.

RUBIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.