The United States has called on Iraqi officials to hold early elections and reform the electoral system, following the deadly anti-government protests rocking the nation’s capital.
In a statement issued Sunday, the White House also asked Baghdad to quit using violence against protesters.
“The United States joins the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq in calling on the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfil President (Barham) Salih’s promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections,” the White House press secretary said in a statement.
“The United States is seriously concerned by continued attacks against protestors, civic activists and the media, as well as restrictions on internet access, in Iraq,” it added.
In a meeting on Sunday among the country’s top leaders, the president, premier and speaker of parliament agreed on reforming the country’s electoral system but made no mention of an early vote.
The protests which began on Oct. 1 were initially focused on anger over corruption and poor living conditions but quickly evolved into calls for the resignation of the entire government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
However, the relatively peaceful movement soon turned violent as armed elements opened fire on police and protesters alike. According to the Iraqi Parliament’s human rights committee, so far 319 people, including demonstrators and security forces, have been killed in the violence.
Abdul-Mahdi’s government has taken some steps in its efforts to quell the unrest, including arranging cash handouts to the poor and creating job opportunities for college graduates. Nevertheless, the demonstrators have refused to back down.