At least 18 people were killed in clashes between anti-government protesters and police in Baghdad overnight, according to police and medical sources, as the cabinet tried to appease public anger over corruption and unemployment with a new reform plan.
The scale of the protests, in which nearly 100 people have died since Tuesday, has taken the authorities by surprise. Two years after the defeat of the Islamic State Group, security is better than it has been in years, but corruption is rampant, wrecked infrastructure has not been rebuilt and jobs remain scarce.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s 17-point plan was the result of an emergency cabinet meeting Saturday night and comes after days of offering only vague reform promises.
It includes increased subsidized housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed as well as training programs and small loans initiatives for unemployed youth.
The families of those killed during demonstrations this week will also get payouts and care usually granted to members of the security forces killed during wars.
“Amid all of this, I swear to God that my only concern is for the casualties,” Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said during the cabinet meeting, according to state TV.
The streets of the capital were quiet so far Sunday. Protests have tended to gather steam later in the day.
The clashes shattered a day of relative calm Saturday after authorities lifted a curfew and traffic moved normally in the center of Baghdad. Hundreds of security personnel were deployed in the streets.
The demonstrations began in Baghdad Tuesday but have quickly spread to other cities mainly in the south.