Iraq PM Al Kadhimi calls for unity after protests and deadly building collapse

Country marks its national day on Monday after being rocked by anti-government demonstrations at the weekend

Iraqi protesters gather at Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Saturday. EPA
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has called for unity following national protests and the collapse of a building in Baghdad at the weekend.

Violence between protesters and security forces left dozens wounded in the capital Baghdad on Saturday.

Thousands had gathered in various cities to mark the three-year anniversary of nationwide demonstrations that began in October 2019.

Meanwhile, 13 people were rescued while one body was pulled from underneath the rubble of a four-storey building that collapsed in Baghdad on Saturday.

“We remember the national struggles of our people, for democracy, freedom and independence. Therefore, strengthening our collective national identity is a national and moral duty,” Mr Al Kadhimi said on Monday.

He said the country's national day was “an indication of the deep partnerships and values. Our patriotism is an essential root of human civilisation”.

In 2020, the government, under Mr Al Kadhimi's rule, restored Iraqi National Day for the first time since the US-led invasion of 2003.

The country's Cabinet picked October 3 — the day the country gained independence from Britain in 1932 and became the 57th member of the League of Nations.

Before then, Iraq's national day was associated with the country's political changes.

Saturday's clashes broke out when security forces tried to prevent protesters from storming the government's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Demonstrators chanted “the people demand the fall of the regime” as thousands gathered at Baghdad's Tahrir Square, the centre of the protest movement.

The UN mission in Iraq called on protesters and security forces to adopt a peaceful stance.

Saturday's demonstrations were intended to revive the protests of October 2019, which were triggered by widespread anger at rampant unemployment, decaying infrastructure and corruption.

The protests continued for months as Iraqis demanded an overhaul of the political system. They spread to the south of the country before receding under the shadow of coronavirus restrictions and a harsh crackdown.

About 600 demonstrators died and thousands more were wounded.

The latest protests come nearly a year after nationwide elections, with authorities yet to agree on a new prime minister and government.

Rival Shiite factions in parliament have been at loggerheads for months, leading to a deadly political impasse.

Powerful cleric Moqtada Sadr has clashed with the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework, which includes politicians from the party of his longtime foe, former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki.

Mr Sadr wants snap elections and the dissolution of Parliament but the Co-ordination Framework wants a new head of government appointed before any polls are held.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 9:07 AM