Last warning for Iraq’s ruling political elite

No one preplanned the decision to set the spark for a new uprising in Iraq, and nobody set a date for sparking it, but the timing of the ongoing summer unrest seems perfect.

The summer season has generally witnessed demonstrations in the past — the most significant of them being the one that erupted in late July of 2015, which lasted many days. Then these protests were revived every week, specifically every Friday, in Baghdad and other cities in the center and south.

They then peaked when thousands of demonstrators stormed the House of Representatives and government headquarters. Sit-in protests were soon organized lasting several days at the entry of the Green Zone, a deserted fortified area in the heart of Baghdad.

This new summer uprising in southern and central provinces, which have a predominantly Shiite population, came at the perfect time. The war against ISIS is over and the price of oil has skyrocketed compared to the prices in the past few years

Adnan Hussein

Perfect timing

The protests continued till the commencement of the recent parliamentary elections which were held on May 12. The final results of the elections have not been announced yet because of a plethora of complaints about rigging in elections, which forced the previous parliament to order a re-counting of votes in many constituencies. This re-counting is still ongoing despite the fact that the new parliament should have held its first parliamentary session by the beginning of this month.

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This new summer uprising in southern and central provinces, which have a predominantly Shiite population, came at the perfect time. The war against ISIS is over and the price of oil has skyrocketed compared to the prices in the past few years. The government headed by Haider Al-Abadi has exploited these two factors, i.e. ISIS and oil prices, to justify the failure to meet pledges of political, administrative and economic reforms, especially in terms of putting an end to the quota system and of combating administrative and financial corruption.

The timing of this uprising is also right since the new parliament has not held any session yet and the new government has not been formed. Logically, the parliament and government should now learn their lessons from this uprising as its intensity has surpassed previous protests.

Official figures confirm that about 15 demonstrators have been killed and 800 others injured, in addition to security forces personnel. Security forces have been so excessive in their crackdown that they have used bullets, gas and batons and have resorted to arbitrary arrests and torture in security centers.

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Moreover, fires have been set in many buildings, mainly in the headquarters of influential Shiite Islamist parties in various provinces and in Baghdad. This is a strong indication on the level of resentment among the people against these parties, which have been in power since 2003 and which have legislated laws only to strengthen their hold on power.

Excessive use of force

The problem in Iraq is that logic is not necessarily the dominant determinant, as is evident from the excessive use of force against peaceful protesters despite the admission by the entirety of the political elite, mainly by Abadi, that the demands of the protestors are legitimate and constitutional.

Furthermore, none of the Iraqi governments have so far learned any lessons from protest movements which have been flaring up since 2011 over the same issues — poor supply of electricity and water, administrative and financial corruption, unemployment, poverty and falling levels of healthcare, education, transportation, energy and sanitation.

Demands also include ending the quota system when forming the government and when distributing positions in state institutions as only ruling party members are allowed to take over public administration offices and other institutions, thus causing widespread administrative and financial corruption, general inefficiency and incompetence and lack of expertise and integrity among those holding leadership positions.

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About eight weeks before the outbreak of the current uprising, the general parliamentary elections were held. Their primary results showed immense voter apathy towards election with about 56% of voters failing to turn out in the polls according to the electoral commission. However, various sources from contesting political parties claim that the voter abstention percentage was as high as 70%.

The results also show that the voters chose not to vote for leaders affiliated with influential Islamist parties hence they lost. This was another indicator of the general discontent with such parties because of their lack of efficiency in administration and appropriation of public funds for personal gains.

Delays expected after the re-count

Following the outcome of the elections, now contested on the ground of large-scale rigging and fraud in many provinces, the re-counting of the votes should conclude in coming weeks. The final results will be validated by the federal court, and then the House of Representatives will convene for the first time which should lead to the election of a new president who will then call for the biggest parliamentary bloc to form a government.

In the past, this process took a long time. In fact, on one occasion it lasted a period of eight months. But it would be completely nonsensical if forming a cabinet is delayed this time – due to conflicts over distribution of posts among Islamist parties in particular – as this would worsen the people’s discontent. Forming the cabinet according to the quota system will further exacerbate the situation, which means that the uprising, which has not ended yet, will pent up steam.

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If this happens, no one will probably be able to control the situation even if more severe repressive measures than the ones currently used are adopted. These recent protests have conveyed a strong worded message that Iraqis will no longer be patient towards the powerful political elite whose corruption has completely infested Iraq and threatens to destroy its entire future.

It’s probable that this uprising will erupt again and escalate more than now as the dominant political class has not shown much concern for the ultimatum issued by the public protests, as it is clear from the fact that it has not met any of their demands. Maybe it is betting on time, but that’s actually a very dangerous bet.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:57 - GMT 06:57
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