Iraq’s new government has promised to release demonstrators arrested during mass protests that erupted in October last year and pledged justice and compensation to relatives of more than 550 people killed during that unrest.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadimi made the announcement on Saturday following his first cabinet meeting. In a televised address, he said all “detainees will be released” except for those involved in killings.
He also promised “the truth about everything that happened” during the months-long protests and vowed to “hold to account all those who shed Iraqi blood”.
Al-Kadhimi, along with 15 of his 22 proposed ministers, won the confidence of Iraq’s parliament on Wednesday evening, presenting themselves as a “transitional” cabinet.
Upon taking office, the prime minister said his priorities would be tackling the coronavirus pandemic and accountability for those who killed protesters in of anti-government protests.
Al-Kadhimi was Iraq’s spy chief when the protests broke out, and his pledge on Saturday comes as calls spread on social media for renewed demonstrations on Sunday.
The government of his predecessor Adel Abdul Mahdi had since October repeatedly said it could not find the “unidentified gunmen” who fired on protesters as they took to the streets to demand the overhaul of the political system.
The protests went on to become the largest and bloodiest social movement in Iraq’s recent history.
Separately, al-Kadhimi reinstated a top general dismissed by Abdul Mahdi in September. Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a highly popular figure in the military campaign to dislodge the ISIL (ISIS) armed group from Mosul in 2017, was appointed head of counterterrorism.
Many protesters had carried the general’s portrait at the start of the demonstrations.
He also promised that all pensions would be paid out in the coming days, rescinding a decision taken by the outgoing government just before it stepped down that blocked all state spending, including civil servants’ salaries and pension payments – relied on by one in five Iraqis.
But an implosion of oil prices amid the coronavirus pandemic indicates that Iraq will have little option but to impose austerity policies that could give rise to renewed protests.
Al-Kadhimi also called on parliament to adopt a new electoral law needed for early elections that had been promised by his predecessor.
Al Jazeera and news agencies