Iraq is burning yet again. The protests which began in Iraq earlier this month initially demanding employment and better services have evolved into a chaotic movement demanding resignation of the government. The United Nations (UN) has urged an end to violence in Iraq, after days of anti-government rallies marred by the killing of more than 150 people as of date and injuring of 6,000, mainly protesters. However, violent protests have continued (with equal resistance from the law enforcement) even into the night in various neighbourhoods of Baghdad and southern Iraq.
The mainly young, male protesters have insisted their movement is not linked to any party or religious establishment and have scoffed at recent overtures by politicians. Demonstrators in the southern city of Nasiriyah have even set fire to the headquarters of six different political parties. Thousands also descended on the governorate in the southern city of Diwaniyah before being dispersed.
The former militia leader and firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has threw his weight behind the protests and demonstrations in Iraq with a call for the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi. His bloc of 54 lawmakers and other factions boycotted the parliamentary session as well in protest. He has also demanded fresh elections supervised by the United Nations. Sadr’s movement has the power and organisation to bring large numbers of supporters onto the streets, but at the risk of alienating many of those whose protests in recent days have been based on rejecting all of Iraq’s feuding political factions. Parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi had extended a hand to protesters saying “your voice is being heard”. But one protester said late Friday “these men don’t represent us. We don’t want parties anymore. We don’t want anyone to speak in our name.”
The protests follow months of simmering frustration over rampant power cuts, water shortage and state corruption. Iraq has a population of just under 40 million people and is currently the fifth-largest oil producer and exporter worldwide, and the second-largest OPEC producer.
However, since the invasion and subsequent withdrawal of US led forces from Iraq, in 2011 after 8 years of the imposed war for bringing ‘democracy and prosperity’ to the country, the occupational coalition forces not only failed but made the things worse and have left the country in tatters and mere ruins. The country ranked 168th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. Youth unemployment stands at 25 per cent, twice the overall rate, according to the World Bank which adds that an estimated 22.5 per cent of the population was living in poverty in 2014, corruption and power cuts are rampant, hardly any war-damaged infrastructure has been restored 16 years past the US invasion, political, sectarian, and tribal conflicts that fuel the spread of extremism are at its peak. Though, the government plans to expand its oil industry and become more self-reliant in other resources as well such as electricity and gas, regional politics and US sanctions against Iran, one of its major partners, are impacting its economy along with a slow bureaucracy and corruption that hampers this country from achieving the glory and stability of Saddam era.
Based on information appearing in Al-Jazeera and AFP. Reproduced for SCF by Rachel Laurent.