Iraq's president calls for 'halt to escalation'

Baghdad (AFP) –


Iraq's president called Monday for a "halt to escalation" and proposed a national dialogue in response to nearly a week of anti-government protests that have left more than 100 dead.

In a televised address, President Barham Saleh said those who attacked protesters and security forces during mass rallies that have spiralled into violence were "the enemies of the people".

His address came hours after the military admitted using "excessive force" in dealing with demonstrators the previous evening in the capital's east.

"Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts," the military said.

It said Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi had ordered those forces to be replaced with federal police units and the intelligence services to open an investigation into the incident in Sadr City in east Baghdad.

More than 100 people have been killed and 6,000 wounded across the country since protests broke out Tuesday, according to the interior ministry.

The embattled premier has announced a series of reforms to create jobs, boost social welfare and oust corrupt officials.

He has accused "saboteurs" of infiltrating the protests, a claim echoed by the Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful network of mostly-Shiite, pro-Iran paramilitary units opposed to the US.