The United States has called on Baghdad to stop using violence against anti-government protesters, reform Iraq’s electoral system and hold early polls, after weeks of deadly unrest.
The protests that began on Oct. 1 were initially focused on a lack of jobs and services but quickly morphed into denunciation of the sectarian power-sharing system of government introduced in 2003 and the political elites they say benefit from it.
Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly young and unarmed protesters, killing more than 280 people.
"The United States joins the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq in calling on the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfil President (Barham) Salih's promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections," the White House press secretary said in a statement.
Iraqi leaders agreed on Sunday that electoral reforms should give more chance for young people to participate in politics and break the monopoly on power of political parties that have dominated state institutions since 2003, state media reported.
In a televised address last month, Salih proposed an early vote after reforms, but the suggestion seems to have been widely rejected by Iraq's political class.
In a meeting on Sunday among the country's top leaders, the president, premier and speaker of parliament agreed on reforming Iraq's electoral system but made no mention of an early vote.