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What's behind the anger in the continuing Iraq protests?


While in the preceding few years, protests in Iraq have become prevalent, the latest eruption of unrest which has allegedly leftover 100 people dead and thousands more injured could mark a critical turning point.


Iraqis are not merely calling for the collapse of a leader or political faction. Instead, they are calling for the conclusion of a political structure which has endured since the US-led offensive toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 - a regime which, they argue, has failed them.


They expressly point to the way government appointments are made based on partisan or cultural measures, rather than on merit. Annoyed Iraqis say this has permitted Shia, Kurdish, Sunni and previous leaders to misuse public funds, augment themselves and their followers and effectively pillage the country of its wealth with minimal benefit to most citizens.


Coming to power just last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi's administration of technocrats vowed a resolution to the exploitation and the disparity between the elite and everyday nationals. Now nearly one year in, he has proven unable and unwilling to force back against the partisan classes.


In Its Place, he has persisted in cutting pacts with the same privileged factions, simply because these leaders put him in power in the first place and deprived of a party-political party, this prime minister, a concession entrant put in place by the two principal contending Shia-led blocs, is at the directive of the political classes more than any of his precursors.

All in All these demonstrations have led to a hazardous natural environment.


Last year, throughout rallies in Basra, security forces also fired on marchers leading to a swift end as campaigners withdrew, fearing that they would be killed. This year, in Baghdad and elsewhere, the defenders of the system seem to be harnessing the teachings of Basra back in the summer of 2018.


In the past, disputes have usually erupted during the summer, when scorching heat and the government's inability to provide essential services, such as electricity or water, arrive at a searing point and Iraqis descend onto the streets of what was once a beautiful city.


Oddly, this year, services have slightly improved, owed partly to heavy rainfall and a less extreme summer, but reforms to the system still remain a vague certainty.

Since the demotion of Staff Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, who has come to be a renowned figure after leading the struggle against the Islamic State (IS) group, infuriated a large faction of countless Iraqis.


They believed the national hero lost his job because of his efforts to fight corruption and the political class within his counter-terrorism service (CTS), and to them, if the hero who fought IS can't fight crime and the political classes, then who can?


It has been sixteen years since the regime change, Iraqis, and particularly the youth in the protests, would seem to be fed up with the pretense of reform and with leaders who have learnt to use the right words but are unwilling or unable to reform the system.

Yet, these protests are mostly leaderless and lack any administrative composition. They are not likely to be lead to any universal change or upheaval. Instead, the guardians of the structure will double down by using extreme violence, censorship, and oppression, to limit freedoms of union and language.


So it comes as no surprise that this weekend's attacks on media outlets in Baghdad and the cutting of the internet are glimpses into a new environment which will not envelope the people of Iraq in any way.


Therefore, while the protests and bloody response suggest a transformative moment, it may be towards an Iraq that is even more authoritarian than it was before the US-led coalition strike back in the heady days of 2003.


Steve Simmonds


Credits: Cover picture courtesy of Associated Free Press

WWB News

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