Iraq’s premier on Friday sent a message to antigovernment protesters, saying their “legitimate demands” have been heard and urging them to go home. At the same time he compared the security measures imposed in the wake of this week’s violence, including a curfew, to “bitter medicine” that needs to be swallowed.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi spoke in an address broadcast to the nation following three days of demonstrations that have spread across many provinces in the country. Since Tuesday, security forces have fired live rounds and tear gas every day to disperse the protesters, leaving 33 people dead and hundreds wounded.
Authorities have also cut internet access in much of Iraq since late Wednesday, in a desperate move to curb the rallies.
The rallies have erupted spontaneously, mostly spurred by youths wanting jobs, improved services such as electricity and water, and an end to endemic corruption in the oil-rich country
“We will not make empty promises … or promise what we cannot achieve,” Abdul-Mahdi said in his speech, broadcast at 2:30 a.m.
He said there is “no magic solution” to Iraq’s problems but pledged to work on laws granting poor families a basic income, provide alternative housing to violators and fight corruption.
“The security measures we are taking, including temporary curfew, are difficult choices. But like bitter medicine, they are inevitable,” he said. “We have to return life to normal in all provinces and respect the law.”
It was not immediately clear what the protesters’ response to Abdul-Mahdi’s statements will be.
The unrest is the most serious challenge for his year-old government, which also has been caught in the middle of increasing U.S.-Iran tensions in the region. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of U.S. troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.
The mostly leaderless protests have been concentrated in Baghdad and in predominantly Shiite areas of southern Iraq, bringing out jobless youths and university graduates who are suffering under an economy reeling from graft and mismanagement.