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Violence in Iraq escalates, U.N. official calls for protection

Violence in Iraq escalates, U.N. official calls for protection
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN special representative for Iraq, called on the government to do more to protect protesters Monday as three died in demonstrations. Photo by Murtaja Lateeef/EPA-EFE

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Violence escalated in Baghdad overnight Sunday and early Monday as anti-government protests continued, and a United Nations official called for an end to the violence.

At least two demonstrators were killed, according to reports. The Iraqi government had not confirmed the deaths.

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As many as 50 were injured in what was the 16th weekend of protests. Demonstrators seek reforms, including the holding of a snap poll, appointment of an independent prime minister and a crackdown on corruption.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Iraq Monday expressed concern over human rights violations in dealing with the protesters and called for the government to do more.

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"In recent months, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from all walks of life have taken to the streets to voice their hope for better times, free from corruption, partisan interests and foreign interference," Hennis-Plasschaert said in a statement posted on Twitter.

"The killing and injury of peaceful protesters, combined with long years of undelivered promises, have resulted in a major crisis of confidence," she added.

She said the recent escalation of tensions in the region has taken away attention from Iraq's failure to fulfill its domestic agenda. She warned geopolitical developments must not keep the government from addressing issues raised by the protesters.

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Iraq has been caught in skirmishes between the United States and Iran, starting with the storming of the U.S. embassy in Iraq, followed by the U.S. killing Iraqi Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq with a drone strike. Iran then retaliated, shooting missiles into an airbase that housed U.S. soldiers.

"Any steps taken so far to address the people's concerns will remain hollow, if they are not completed," Hennis-Plasschaert wrote. "Domestic unity, cohesion and determination are urgently necessary to build resilience against narrow partisan interests, foreign interference and/or criminal elements which actively seek to hinder Iraq's stability."

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