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Iraqi Communist MP who resigned over protest violence now calls for government to step down

Haifa al-Amin tells MEE that 'special tribunals' must be set up to identify and try those responsible for the killings of Iraqi protesters
Iraqis take part in an anti-government demonstration on 28 October in the central city of Hila (AFP)

An Iraqi Communist MP who resigned from parliament over the handling of weeks-long protests has called for the government to resign and for the creation of "special tribunals" to try those responsible for killing demonstrators.

Haifa al-Amin, an MP for southern Dhi Qar province, was one of four parliamentarians who resigned on Sunday in protest of the Iraqi security forces' treatment of demonstrators.

"Special tribunals must be formed to consider all the cases and identify those involved in the firing [of] live ammunition and the use of violence, as well as whoever gave the orders," she told Middle East Eye by WhatsApp on Monday.

Over 200 people have been killed and 8,000 wounded since anti-government protests began in Iraq on 1 October, according to the semi-governmental Iraqi Human Rights Commission.

The demonstrators have been met with everything from tear gas and water cannons to live ammunition and sniper rounds.

"[This] all led me to take my position to resign and stand by the people," Amin said.

Election poster for Haifa al-Amin (Sairoun)
Election poster for Haifa al-Amin (Sairoun)

Her comments come as Iraqis, including large numbers of students and schoolchildren, once again took to the streets on Monday to protest unemployment, corruption and lack of services.

She said the current Iraqi government should step down and a new administration composed of technocrats and independent MPs should be appointed.

That new government should exclude "the figures whom the people have tested and lost confidence in their ability to implement reforms", she said.

The Iraqi politician added that the country should then "prepare for holding early elections" while political figures "indicted [for] corruption must be brought to account and face courts that are set up for this purpose".

Amin, whose uncle in 1934 co-founded the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), the country's oldest and still-active political party, warned that Iraq's fragile democracy was at risk if no moves were made to meet the protesters' demands.

"When citizens feel that political life is rife with corruption, with weak law enforcement, promoting chaos, and when nepotism becomes the means to secure rights, faith in democracy certainly weakens," she told MEE.

Early elections

Along with Amin, fellow ICP MP Raid Jahed Fahmi, the party's current general secretary, and Taha al-Difai and Muzahem al-Tamimi, both members of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's Nasr coalition, also resigned on Sunday.

"We are resigning because of the protests and the way they were repressed," Fahmy told AFP news agency.

"In 27 days, parliament has done nothing: it could not hold the prime minister nor the interior minister accountable" for the use of violence against the protesters, he said.

Amin was elected to the Iraqi parliament in 2018 as part of the Sairoun coalition, which allied the ICP with followers of influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Supporters of the Iraqi Communist Party take part in a rally marking Labour Day in the capital Baghdad
Supporters of the Iraqi Communist Party take part in a rally marking Labour Day in the capital Baghdad (AFP)

The alliance ran in the May 2018 elections on a promise to oppose corruption and sectarianism, two issues that have been at the forefront of many protesters' concerns.

Despite this, the alliance has not been spared the opprobrium of the demonstrators, who have largely condemned the entire Iraqi political class.

The largest parliamentary bloc, backed by Sadr, has been holding an open-ended sit-in since Saturday night, as his Sairoun political alliance announced it was withdrawing its support for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi despite previously having co-sponsored his premiership.

In a statement on Monday evening, Sadr echoed Amin's call for early elections, adding that the current political parties should not take part.

Accountability

On Monday evening, demonstrators crowded into Baghdad's Tahrir Square, which has been long been the site of mass protests, even as it was engulfed in clouds of tear gas.

The army then announced that evening the imposition of a curfew from midnight to 6am, leading to fears that activists occupying the central square could be violently dispersed.

'When citizens feel that political life is rife with corruption, with weak law enforcement, promoting chaos, and when nepotism becomes the means to secure rights, faith in democracy certainly weakens'

- Haifa al-Amin, former Iraqi Communist MP

Amin said urgent action was needed to identify those responsible for killing protesters over the past month.

"They must be apprehended and detained until the relevant court sentences are issued. These measures must be carried out as soon as possible," she said.

She added that armed, non-state militia groups, who have been blamed for carrying out attacks on protesters and media outlets, must be stopped, as well.

Several offices belonging to militias - including the powerful Iran-backed Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq - have been torched in southern Iraq over the past week, prompting threats of "revenge" from its leaders.

"State decrees and laws that prohibit the possession and use of arms outside the control of the state must be firmly carried out," said Amin.

Women's participation

Compared to other countries across the region, such as Lebanon, Sudan and Algeria, the recent anti-government demonstrations in Iraq have been marked by a lack of women's participation.

But the number of women taking to the streets has visibly increased over the past week, particularly as students flocked to the protests on Monday.

Amin, who previously was an armed guerilla against former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government in the 1980s, has decades of experience working as a woman in Iraq's heavily male-dominated political scene.

She said the participation of so many women in the recent demonstrations was a "positive shock" for her.

Supporters of the Iraqi Communist Party take part in a rally marking Labour Day in the capital Baghdad (AFP)
Supporters of the Iraqi Communist Party take part in a rally marking Labour Day in the capital Baghdad (AFP)

"Young women are usually not allowed to be present outdoors for work or otherwise. The first few days were marred with violence and firing live bullets," said Amin, who up until her resignation represented her conservative home province as a left-wing secularist MP.

"But the picture changed radically in the demonstrations on 25 October with the appearance of women of different age groups, including those who provided food and some logistic support, especially ... older women."

Despite conservative social norms - and instances of fierce violence from the security services - Iraqi women are continuing to take to the streets.

In fact, women and young girls took part in demonstrations on Monday not only in relatively liberal Baghdad, but also in more conservative provinces such as Najaf, Dhi Qar and Diwaniya.

"This has been a positive shock that brought change to society and the mass movement in an unprecedented manner," said Amin.