This December 29, 2015 photo shows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi being surrounded by Iraqi security forces during a visit to the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, after Iraqis recaptured it from Daesh Takfiri group. (AFP photo)
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called on reform protesters in the capital Baghdad to halt their weekly action as the Iraqi military and allies gear up for retaking a key city west of the country from militants.
“I call upon our youth to postpone their protest tomorrow, because our security forces are busy fighting in Fallujah,” Abadi said, referring to an operation he ordered to a few days ago to retake Fallujah from Daesh Takfiri group.
The Iraqi premier, who was speaking from the command center for the Fallujah operation, said continued demonstrations in Baghdad and elsewhere would exert pressure on the Iraqi forces battling Daesh.
“All our security forces are preoccupied with liberating Fallujah and nearby areas,” Abadi said, calling on Iraqis to be “vigilant and cautious as they (Daesh militants) will try to carry out crimes and massacres against civilians.”
Abadi’s call was specifically aimed at followers of the Muqtada Sadr, a respected cleric based in the city of Najaf, who has mobilized people in Baghdad and other cities against what he calls rampant corruption in Iraq
. A series of weekly demonstrations prompted Abadi to introduce a new cabinet earlier this month, but the move failed due to fierce opposition among political factions and triggered more violent protests in Baghdad. At least four people were killed in the clashes between police and protesters last week.
The operation to retake Fallujah comes more than two years after the city, located 60 kilometers west of Baghdad in Anbar province, fell to the hands of Daesh. Fallujah’s liberation would prepare the ground for a highly-anticipated offensive into the northern city of Mosul, Daesh’s last and the most strategic bastion in Iraq.
However, observers say Abadi’s focus on Fallujah’s recapture is more of an attempt to win support in the current political turmoil as military commanders had recommended focusing efforts on liberating Mosul first.