By Kaline Hamadi
Iraq protests, comprised of mostly young and unemployed, started in Baghdad on the first day of October. Protesters are demanding more jobs, better public services, an end to corruption and are calling for the end of a failing political system which has existed since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Iraq’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair, public services are inadequate, and it is struggling to rebuild its economy.
One immediate trigger of the protests is thought to be the demotion of Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, a prominent army officer who fought against Isis and was regarded as a rare hero across sectarian lines. The reason he lost his position has not been publicly explained, but many Iraqis suspect it is because he tried to fight corruption in the country’s counter-terrorism service.
Specifically jarring to these protestors, the government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas (a system known as muhassasa), rather than on merit. Aggrieved Iraqis say this has allowed Shia, Kurdish, Sunni and other leaders to abuse public funds, enrich themselves and their followers and effectively pillage the country of its wealth with very little benefit to most citizens.
Authorities have used excessive force in suppressing the protestors. After security forces used live ammunition against demonstrators, the unrest escalated and spread to other cities and towns. Over 150 people were killed over the five most intense days of the protests this month. The committee concluded that “officers and commanders lost control over their forces during the protests” and that this “caused chaos”.
There were calls for fresh demonstrations starting on the one-year anniversary of Iraq’s Prime Minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, taking office. Abdul-Mahdi has promised reforms and to reshuffle his cabinet to try to satisfy protesters.
Early Friday November 22, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for the country’s politicians to speed up the reform of electoral laws, saying the changes were the only way to resolve the deadly unrest that has unfolded in recent weeks filled with bloodshed.
Iraq’s President Barham Salih has promised to hold a snap parliamentary election once a new law is passed in a bid to placate the protesters, but has not outlined any timeline for the vote.
The protestors don’t trust what the government is saying; they think the rhetoric is more of the same of a technique to placate the protests. Protestors are continuing to demonstrate no matter what threat might be posed to them, because they want to send a message to the government that they will not stop until their demands are met.
The Iraqi Parliament accepted Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation on Sunday December 1, posing a major challenge for Iraq’s fractious political class, which must now agree on a candidate that satisfies protests roiling the country, while reconciling the competing interests of Iran and the U.S.