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Baghdad asks for clerics' help to limit spread of protests

A source close to the Iraqi government revealed, Wednesday, that political and military officials have contacted influential clerics in southern Iraq to seek help in preventing the spread of demonstrations to new cities and towns.

The Iraqi government has been making intensive efforts to curb the spread of popular demonstrations that are scheduled to start next Friday, following coordination between activists in nine southern provinces in addition to the capital Baghdad.

The source told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that these efforts are focused on limiting the protests to the centres of the provinces to control their security and ensure that they would not raise slogans inciting against the government.

He pointed out that government authorities have contacted clerics and leading scholars to use their influence and urge their followers not to go out for new demonstrations. He added that the government aspires that the clergy will be the link with the demonstrators in the next phase after the failure of all attempts to contact activists, amid an absence of a unified leadership of the demonstrations.

Read: Iraq's southern rebellion defies defeat in the face of state violence

The source clarified that the majority of those who have been contacted in this regard announced their refusal to intervene whether by urging people to hold demonstrations or return to their homes and end the protest. They considered that the demands of the protesters are legitimate, but opposed the burning and destruction which reached headquarters of parties and government departments in southern Iraq.

On the other hand, an activist in the demonstrations of Basra, Ghassan Al-Waeli, said that the protest movement there is not subjected to a unified leadership that can issue orders to stop or expand them. He considered that the government's attempts to contact clerics and the precedent efforts of communicating with tribal leaders would eventually fail because the decision is at the hands of the crowd of demonstrators and no one can influence them without fulfilling their demands.

Iraqi activists have flooded a number of the country's southern cities with papers and leaflets pinned on the walls of schools, mosques and markets, calling for a unified Friday demonstration in the nine southern towns and Baghdad to renew what they claim to be a demand of rights.

Activists are intending to move the protest movements to the northern Iraqi provinces that are liberated from the control of Daesh, prompting the Saladin Provincial Council (north) to consider the demands of the provinces' residents to return the displaced families and implement the services file to avoid popular protests.

Read: 14 dead from weeks of demonstrations in Iraq

The head of Saladin Provincial Council, Ahmed Al-Karim, said that the demands of the provinces' residents also include handing over the security file and the checkpoints inside the cities to the army and the police instead of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which should only provide security to the city's outskirts. Protesters also called for unifying the security authorities under a joint leadership, as well as completing the establishment of power plants in the cities of Baiji and Samarra and providing the allocated funds for the construction of four hospitals.

Al-Karim added during a press conference that the demands also included returning 4,000 police officers and announcing appointments that have been suspended since 2014, in addition to other demands.

Shi'ite-majority provinces in southern Iraq are still witnessing widespread protests since 9 July, demanding the provision of public services, job opportunities and fighting corruption.

The protests sparked violence and the burning of public property and parties' headquarters, causing the death of least 13 demonstrators and the injury of hundreds of security officers and demonstrators.

The government has taken some measures to contain the protests, including the allocation of government jobs and funds to the provinces of Dhi Qar, Muthanna and Basra, and plans to implement service projects in the short and medium terms. However, protesters say the measures are not proportionate to the demands.

The government says that saboteurs take advantage of the protests to target public properties, and vows to stop them.

For many years, Iraqis have been protesting against poor public services and rampant corruption in a country that annually earns tens of billions of dollars from selling oil.

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