Quick Take – Iraq Protests

The facts

A new wave of protests in Iraq is calling for the end of the political system that was created in the post-Saddam Hussein era in a bid to make the country more inclusive.

What is happening?

While demonstration in Iraq have become common over the past years, the protests that started on October 1st, 2019 pose the most serious threat of disruption to the country since the defeat of ISIS in 2017. The protests have reportedly left over 100 people dead and more than 6,000 civilians injured.

In the midst of common protest push factors such as corruption and unemployment, Iraqis are also demanding the end of the political system that was established after the fall of former President Saddam Hussein. They specifically target the way government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas, rather than on merit, and call for a more inclusive and representative system.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi came into power a year ago with promises to provide solutions to the endemic corruption and to close the gap between the elite and ordinary citizens. However, he has proven unable and unwilling to push back against the established political elite.

What’s next?

While change will not happen overnight, the government’s only platform to demonstrate its willingness to listen to citizens’ demands, is to communicate via all available channels including TV, radio, social media as well as on the ground. Yet, the country has been cut off from the Internet since the beginning of the month. By cutting communication links, the authorities hoped to weaken the demonstrators’ ability to organise the protests, but by doing so are blocking their only channel to defuse the situation.

Protestors demands will not be implemented overnight; they are deeply rooted societal issues in a post conflict country with more than 60% of the population under 24 years old yearning for a better future. The government needs to communicate louder and engage widely about changes or Iraq could see its road to prosperity and stabilisation under threat.