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Outrage after Iraqi MP illegally fires gun in air during New Year's celebration

Wahda al-Jumaili apologises for shooting handgun out of car window on night that saw one child killed by stray celebratory gunfire
Still from a video posted on social media showing Wahda al-Jumaili firing a gun in the air (Twitter)

An Iraqi MP has stirred controversy after a video emerged of her firing a gun into the air during New Year's celebrations, despite it being illegal to do so.

Wahda al-Jumaili, a Sunni MP for Baghdad, posted a video of her firing two shots from a pistol into the air out the window of her car overnight on Monday, as the country ushered in 2019.

Although celebrating events with gunfire is commonplace in a number of Arab countries, the practice has been outlawed in Iraq as a result of the multiple deaths and injuries that have been caused by falling bullets.

According to the Iraqi health ministry, dozens of people were injured by fireworks or gunfire during the New Year celebrations.

"The final outcome of the fireworks in Iraq yesterday is the death of a child as a result of a gunshot wound and 77 injuries as a result of the fireworks," said ministry spokesman Saif al-Bader, according to Alsumaria News.

A security services source told the news site it had arrested "one person who fired shots of a pistol in the Dora area, south of the capital".

The clip of Jumaili provoked outrage on social media with numerous Iraqis accusing her of irresponsibility and double standards.

Following the outcry, Jumaili - who is also a member of a parliamentary committee on human rights - posted an apology on her Facebook page, claiming that she had been celebrating at a neighbour's wedding.

"I hope for your forgiveness, I am a tribal woman and was at the wedding of one of my neighbourhood's dear residents in a rural area in the city of Ramadi," she said.

I hope for your forgiveness, I am a tribal woman and was at the wedding of one of my neighborhood's dear residents in a rural area in the city of Ramadi

- Wahda al-Jumaili, Iraqi MP

Iraqis celebrated the New Year across the country on Monday evening largely without incident, despite the still fragile security situation in the country.

A security source told Alsumaria News that celebrations in the capital Baghdad "went smoothly and ended without any security breach," and said it showed "the return of life to normal in all areas of Baghdad".

He added that there had been 10 arrests of "drunkards" and a number of incidents of harassment.

New Year celebrations condemned

The widespread celebrations came in spite of warnings from some religious leaders condemning the event.

Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi al-Sumaidaie, the Sunni grand mufti, said in his Friday sermon that it was forbidden for Muslims to take part in New Year's celebrations, which are often conflated by religious conservatives with celebrating Christmas.

"Participating in their [Christian] celebrations is similar to following their manners, so agreeing with their religious celebrations is agreeing with their infidelity," he said.

"Congratulating Christians in their celebrations is the same as congratulating them for worshipping their cross and believing in Jesus as the son of God."

His comments were condemned by a number of organisations, including representatives of Christian and Yazidi groups, as well as the Iraqi Sunni Endowment.

"Such reckless and irrational statements take us back to the hatred, incitement, sedition and rejection of other religions. It does not represent the joint co-existence among Iraqis of all doctrines, nationalities and sects - whether Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen," said Abdul Latif al-Heymem, chief of the Endowment, according to the New Arab.

"Christians don't prevent us from celebrating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, so why should Christmas celebrations be forbidden?"