Iraq is melting down and it is unlike anything we have seen before. In the western mind when we think of Iraq we tend to automatically think of protest, uprisings, insurgencies, and violence. This is the mentality that often accompanies invasion and occupation. We imagine the problems are with “those” people “over there.” We seldom imagine that our own government and policies played a large role in establishing the problems now unfolding. The current system of government was established by the US as a power-sharing arrangement among the different ethnic groups. It has grown into a massive system of corruption according to the Iraq protesters.
The protests have steadily grown since they began on October 1. Last week nearly 200,000 protesters marched on Baghdad. To date, at least 320 people have been killed in these protests. Over ten thousand Iraqi protesters have been wounded along with government security forces.
Authorities have tried to squelch the protests with curfews that are frequently ignored. A near-total internet blackout has also been employed to prevent the protesters from communicating with one another. The numbers turning out for the protests this week slightly diminished due to allegations of government forces kidnapping protesters.
It is the greatest unrest and violence to hit Iraq since the withdrawal of the Islamic State’s forces. To date, the violence and protest have been based primarily in the Shiite cities of the south. Dr. Renaud Mansour of the London based think tank Chatham House notes that this is the largest grassroots movement in Iraq’s history.
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The frustrations and demands of the protesters in Iraq are both sweeping and simple. They are not interested in political reform because they no longer trust promises for reform. They are demanding the resignation of the entire political class, including the Prime Minister. They are fed up with widespread corruption and economic dysfunction in the country. Iraq possesses some of the world’s largest oil reserves, but power cuts are a frequent reality. The lack of jobs and basic services plagues the Iraqi people in a nation where the political elite bask in corruption and excess.
It is worth noting that the protests, dominated by Shiite population centers are also calling for the ouster of occupying powers. The occupying power is not the US. It is Iran!
Iran leveraged the US designed ethnic-based political system to build their own system of power and influence in Iraq following the US withdrawal from the country. The current Prime Minister of Iraq, Adil Abdul-Mahdi is seen as Iran’s man. Not long after the protests began the infamous Iranian general Soleimani flew to Baghdad for private meetings with the government. Protesters allege that Iranian snipers have been utilized to add to their death count.
Prime Minister Mahdi volunteered to resign in Iraq shortly after the protests swelled but has not mentioned such an offer since speaking with Soleimani.
There are two common themes among the protesters. They are tired of corruption and dysfunction in the government. Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the top 15 most corrupt governments in the world.
The protesters are also young. Repeated reports from the BBC to the New York Times note that these protesters are educated and ready for work but cannot find jobs in this chaos and dysfunction of the Iraqi government.
One protester noted to the Associated Press: “We’ve had enough — enough! They stole our futures, and now they’re killing us.”
While possessing the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves 40 million people in Iraq (22.5% of the population) are living on less than $1.90 a day. The national unemployment rate is 13% but that doubles for young adults. Half of the government’s budget goes to paying bureaucrats who do little.