Thousands demonstrate in Iraq capital for more reforms

AFP , Friday 14 Aug 2015

People shout slogans during a demonstration against corruption and poor services in regard to power cuts and water shortages, in Basra province, Iraq, August 14, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Thousands of people turned out for a festive demonstration in Baghdad's Tahrir Square Friday, expressing support for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's reform drive while calling on him to do more.

On Sunday, Abadi announced a reform programme in response to weeks of protests and to a call for drastic change from Iraq's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Parliament approved the plan, along with additional measures, two days later.

In Baghdad, the demonstrators waved Iraqi flags and criticised most politicians while praising Abadi.

They chanted slogans including "Out, out, you are all thieves," and "No promises, no guarantees, we want the dissolution of the parliament."

But of Abadi, they said: "Oh Haider, march, march, we are all with you in Tahrir."

Some carried pictures of the premier with the text "All the people are with you."

Images of other politicians were also present, but with their faces crossed out in red.

"Abadi gets his power from the people, and now he has wide acceptance from us, and he has the support of the Marjaiyah (Shia religious leadership)," said activist Mohammed Jabbar.

"He does not have any excuse; he should implement the reforms."

"The first reforms are acceptable, but we want more. We want to try the corrupt and get back the Iraqi money that was wasted," he said, also calling for the reform of the judiciary.

Other demonstrators demanded changes including a government of technocrats, and for all the current ministers to be sacked.

Amid a major heatwave that has seen temperatures top 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), protesters have railed against the poor quality of services, especially power outages that leave just a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day.

Thousands of people have turned out in Baghdad and cities in the Shiite south to vent their anger and pressure the authorities to make changes.

Their demands were given a boost last week when Sistani, who is revered by millions, called for Abadi to take "drastic measures" against corruption, saying the "minor steps" he had announced were not enough.

Various parties and politicians have sought to align themselves with the protesters in order to benefit from the movement and mitigate the risk to themselves.

Even with popular support for change, the entrenched nature of corruption and the fact that parties across the political spectrum benefit from it will make any efforts extremely difficult.

Abadi warned Wednesday that the reform process "will not be easy; it will be painful," and that corrupt individuals would seek to impede change.

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