By Arif Yusuf and Hamdi Yildiz
BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraq’s parliament speaker pledged Saturday that if authorities do not respond to protesters’ demands then he will join their ranks.
“If the demands of the protesters are not met, I will take to the street along with them,” Mohamed al-Halbousi told reporters in the capital Baghdad, calling on the protesters’ representatives to attend the next session of parliament to discuss their demands.
Halbousi also urged them not to clash with security forces but to continue demanding their legitimate rights.
He also promised to fight corruption, saying: “The disaster of corruption is no different than terrorism.”
He urged the government to identify the ringleaders of corruption in order to hold them accountable.
Halbousi also assured the protesters that money has been allocated for building around 100,000 houses, a project he said would offer employment to around a million people.
“Higher education graduates will be given higher opportunities and personnel recruitment will start,” he said, adding that over a million low-income families will be financially supported by parliament.
On Saturday, Iraq’s government engaged in talks with the protesters’ representatives for the first time in an effort to end the wave of demonstrations that has killed scores in the country since Tuesday.
At least 100 people have been killed and more than 2,500 others injured in the protests, according to an anonymous official from Iraq’s Health Ministry.
Protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi as well as improvements in living conditions and an end to corruption.
Discontent has been growing in Iraq in recent years due to rising unemployment and rampant corruption. Many in the country have limited access to basic services such as electricity and clean water, and unemployment is around 10%.
– UN call for ending violence
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, special representative of the secretary-general for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, expressed concern over the incidents.
“Deeply saddened by the senseless loss of life. Five days of reported deaths and injuries: this must stop,” she wrote on Twitter.
“I call on all parties to pause and reflect. Those responsible for violence should be held to account. Let the spirit of unity prevail across #Iraq.”
*Writing by Sena Guler in Ankara