November 18, 2019 / 7:59 PM / a month ago

U.S. threatens sanctions on Iraqi officials over protester deaths

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said the United States was prepared to impose sanctions on any Iraqi officials found to be corrupt as well as those responsible for the deaths and wounding of peaceful protesters.

“We will not stand idle while the corrupt officials make the Iraqi people suffer,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “The United States will use our legal authority to sanction corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth and those killing and wounding peaceful protesters.”

At least 315 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The protests are an eruption of public anger against a ruling elite seen as enriching itself off the state and serving foreign powers, especially Iran, as many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.

On Monday, protesters blocked entry to Iraq’s main commodities port while schools and government offices in many southern cities were shut in response to calls for a general strike.

Pompeo said the United States was watching events unfold “very, very closely.”

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Tim Ahmann and Chizu Nomiyama; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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