May 26, 2016 / 1:07 PM / 2 years ago

Iraq PM urges end to protests while army busy fighting Islamic State

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appealed on Thursday for an end to protests against his government while the armed forces are fighting to retake the city of Falluja from Islamic State (IS) insurgents.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks at a news conference during his visit to Najaf, south of Baghdad, in this file photo taken October 20, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani /Files

Abadi is trying to refocus the attention of Iraq’s unruly political parties on the war on Islamic State so as to defuse unrest prompted by delays in his planned reshuffle of the cabinet to help root out corruption.

Abadi said security forces should be free to concentrate on the offensive that began on Monday to dislodge the ultra-hardline Sunni militants from Falluja, the first Iraqi city that fell under IS control in Iraq, in January 2014.

“We ask our dear youth to postpone their demonstrations until Falluja is freed; this battle requires an important effort,” Abadi said. “Holding demonstrations is a right, but that would put pressure on our forces.”

Demonstrators demanding anti-graft reforms and better protection for the public against Islamic State suicide bombing and gun attacks broke into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone - where the government is based - twice in less than a month.

The second time, on May 20, turned violent as security forces used force to push protesters of the zone, well away from parliament, government offices and embassies.

Four of the demonstrators were killed and more than 90 wounded, according to hospital sources. The Iraqi government reported two deaths and denied that live ammunition was used against protesters.

The demonstrations included supporters of powerful

Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as well as people from

other groups upset over the government’s slowness to crack down on pervasive graft and shore up public security in Baghdad.

Sadr has so far not called for further protests.

The United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Abadi’s government this week to investigate the killing of protesters.

The offensive to retake Falluja is part of Baghdad’s campaign to reverse IS’s capture of wide tracts of northern and western Iraq. Government forces retook the Anbar provincial capital Ramadi near Falluja in December but have yet to tackle a bigger challenge - IS-held Mosul, Iraq’s largest northern city.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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