UN prods Iraq on electoral reform

Iraq's parliament should implement the electoral reform called for by protesters, the UN's top envoy said on Tuesday, days after a demonstration pressing those demands turned violent.

A full turnover of the electoral panel's members and an overhaul of the electoral law were the two main demands of a recent wave of protests led by the movement of populist Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Seven people — two policemen and five protesters — were killed on Saturday when part of the crowd tried to march on the electoral commission, which sits in Baghdad's Green Zone.

Sadr supporters broke into the heavily-fortified area twice last year and the security forces met last week's protesters with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.

The United Nations secretary general's representative in Iraq, Jan Kubis, warned against any threats to the electoral commission's members but called for swift electoral change.

Until it is replaced, the Independent High Electoral Commission "must be enabled and empowered to fulfil its constitutional mandate free from interference and intimidation," he said in a statement.

He urged parliament to "finalise the ongoing review" of the election law and the electoral commission.

Kubis said that would follow the "principles of democracy and the rule of law when responding to the wishes of many Iraqis to introduce a profound reform of electoral process and institutions."

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's cabinet announced last month that provincial elections would take place in September.

Demonstrators have argued that the electoral commission was anything but independent and that all of its members were affiliated to dominant political parties.

They also want a change in the electoral law, which favours those same parties over smaller ones.

Security forces were deployed en masse across Baghdad on Tuesday ahead of a planned gathering by Sadr supporters and other Iraqis in memory of the victims of Saturday's protest, the deadliest the city had seen in years.

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