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Iraqi demonstrations against parliamentarians' benefits

4 September, 2013Trade unions and their members were at the forefront of this weekend’s protests to demand an end to over-generous pension benefits granted to members of parliament. Demonstrators also voiced long-standing grievances about the poor state of public services.

Despite an intense security crackdown, the last day of August saw hundreds of demonstrators on Iraqi streets protesting against lawmakers’ perks. Iraqi people are angry and disgusted at the fact that Parliamentarians have approved themselves massive monthly pension payments regardless of how long they serve. They retain around 80 percent of their full salary as a pension after serving one term in parliament, along with allotments for security, and they also keep their diplomatic passports.

Protests took place in Baghdad, as well as several southern cities including Basra, Hilla, Najaf and Nasiriyah, as well as Kirkuk and Baquba, to the north of Baghdad. Several thousand demonstrated in the southern city of Basra, where one banner declared: "The resources of Iraq are for Iraqis, not the lawmakers." In Nasiriyah, riot police armed with batons are reported to have wounded 11 people and detained ten.

Authorities in Baghdad refused to allow demonstrations and turned to extraordinary security measures, including blocking bridges and deploying large numbers of armed soldiers and police in major squares. Security forces arrested dozens of protestors in Baghdad as police dispersed a demonstration in Tahrir square by force. However, as a result of government pressure, including confiscating cameras and detaining journalists, media coverage of the protests was minimal.

Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan Ibrahim defended the security operation, saying authorities were concerned suicide bombers might try to attack the rallies. He insisted authorities had no problem with the demonstrations and that his forces were present only to protect protesters. In a statement on his website, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri-al Maliki said he supported the protesters' demands and would work to "amend the salaries of high-profile officials".

Along with demonstrations and mobilizations across the country, Iraqi unions initiate to form unity to challenge political authorities. Basra-based trade unions, including IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliates in electricity and oil sectors, have recently decided to form a coalition in order to level up the pressure over the government on labour-related matters.

IndustriALL Global Union shares the disgust of the Iraqi people and trade unions and will continue to give full support and publicize all their struggles.