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12 November, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Mass uprisings do not erupt without a trigger and in Iraq there was more than one

Saad Abdulrazzak Hussain

The maelstrom of factors leading to Iraq’s uprising, now in its sixth week, have been brewing for a long time. Some go back years and have their roots in the calls for reform during the government of Haider Al Abadi, which were supported by some parliamentarians but, as often happens in the political arena in Iraq, as soon as the ruling parties sensed a lull in the rage of the masses calling for change, they simply ignored their demands. Then, the pro-reform movement was limited to Friday gatherings in Baghdad’s Freedom Square, rather than the throngs of thousands that now fill the streets daily. The large majority of those crowds belonged to the Sadrist movement and were acting on the orders of the cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who has spoken in support of this protest movement.

In the face of widespread criticism in 2015,  Al Abadi proposed far-reaching changes, including holding an inquiry into corruption and scrapping sectarian and party quotas in the appointment of top officials. Yet despite the gravity of the factors leading to the uprising four years ago, those promises made by ruling parties went unfulfilled.

The majority of the demonstrators today are young people, some of whom were born after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, or who were children at the time. So far, the protest movement has not nominated leaders through whom to channel its demands, perhaps because of the spontaneity with which the uprising began. But their indignation is clear, prompted by the corruption that has plagued a succession of administrations since 2003. It has manifested in organisations that override state institutions and in a collective failure to try corrupt officials, regardless of their social background or their political, religious and sectarian affiliations.

Protesters have also been mobilised into action by state bureaucracy that prevents them from getting anything done; the failure to provide basic services such as electricity, drinking water, education and health care; and high unemployment, particularly among young people.

They are demanding the dissolution of parliament, the immediate holding of free and fair elections, supervised by the United Nations, and changes to the Electoral Commission, enabling them to select candidates independent of the existing political parties.

Their cry for reforms go further than ever before: they want a new constitution for the country that enshrines the separation of religion and politics, the formation of an independent judiciary council, the disbanding of all militias and the use of weapons to be confined to the state alone. And they want to abolish all privileges enjoyed by the president, parliament and prime minister. Critically, they want to ensure Iraq is protected from Iranian interference in its national affairs.

So far, more than 260 people have been killed and thousands injured. There appear to be forces targeting the demonstrators with live ammunition as well as tear gas. While the government has publicly renounced the killing of demonstrators, who are expressing their legitimate right to protest, there are suggestions that elements linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are behind the shootings.

That has not stopped demonstrators gradually increasing their demands. Initially they focused on job opportunities but that quickly swelled to calls for a change in governance. This was illustrated by the rejection of all figures of the regime, from officials to leaders of parties and militias as well as top officials. Prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi offered his resignation, which was accepted by president Barham Salih conditional on finding a replacement, but that has not been enough to quell public outrage. Amid shifting allegiances, Al Sadr’s attempts to forge an alliance with Hadi Al Amiri, head of the Fateh bloc, to unseat Abdul Mahdi resulted in him being expelled from demonstrations in Najaf last month. Even the country’s most senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Al Al Sistani, has been ineffectual in establishing calm.

When Abdul Mahdi first took up his post just over a year ago, there was hope of some of these endemic problems improving because he did not belong to a particular political party. He assumed power as a result of the bloody uprising in Basra, which saw Al Abadi ousted as prime minister. Abdul Mahdi was chosen as a result of an understanding reached by Al Sadr’s Sairon bloc, the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament, and Al Amiri’s Fateh front.

The writer is a researcher for the Iraq Studies Institute in Beirut



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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