Crisis Country

Iraq has been ravaged by warfare, an internally displaced persons crisis and crippling sectarianism. There are severe challenges as political, sectarian and tribal conflicts rage fueled by massive corruption, unemployment and failing services.

By Siraj M. Shawa | December 2019

October 2019 was one of the bloodiest months in Iraq when more than 250 people perished and about 5000 got injured in protests across the country. The outbreak of these protests is neither surprising nor unprecedented as, in recent years, public demonstrations against massive corruption, unemployment and failing services have become almost seasonal in Iraq. Summer protests are especially the hallmark of the country’s political landscape because of power shortfall and water woes, primarily due to extremely hot weather. What distinguishes this wave of protests is spontaneity. It has not come in response to a call from someone, nor has any party or group of activists avidly sought to organize such anti-government rallies. The fact is, it is not coordinated by any political segment and enjoys support from people belonging to different sectarian and ethnic groups. And this makes it more popular and widespread.

Since the controversial and wrongful invasion of Iraq by the United States, stability in the country remains undermined. The Bush administration deliberately misled the American people while overthrowing the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein. Not only did the conditions of Iraq transform from bad to worse after the 2003 US-led invasion, but it also led to the breaking out of violence and terrorism in the whole region with the coming of ISIL in 2014. Though protests have been erupting in different parts of Iraq since 2015 from time to time, the defeat of ISIS in 2017, as a result of which relative peace was established, gave ample space to the people to express their grievances and ask for redressal in a more emphatic manner.

Factors involved in these demonstrations are complicated and many in number; and accordingly, it appears as if the collective public threshold has been crossed. People are full of indignation and are annoyed with all political parties, including some religious leaders. In the city of Nasiriya, the protests turned anti-status quo to the extent that marchers set the headquarters of six different political parties on fire.

People have been hit by huge unemployment issues, some 25% youth are jobless - and resentful. According to the World Bank, 22.5% of Ieaq’s population lives in poverty and more than 60% subsist on less than $6 a day. At the same time, it holds the 4th largest reserves of oil in the world and is the 2nd largest OPEC producer. The state of basic healthcare and education sector is appalling in Iraq. Based on a report by UNICEF, 50% of the schools in the country are damaged and need urgent repair. Availability of clean water and electricity is also limited.

Some among the protesters are seeking an end to the sectarian quota-based system i.e. Muhassa, as, according to them there are reasonable indications that politicians exploit this arrangement for personal gains. People are demanding meritocracy where the real talent reaches the highest level. Many are calling for an end to the political system which was introduced by the United States in 2003. They call the present system very corrupt that just facilitates incompetent people. A number of the people want to become independent of the US and Iranian influence. They even tried to raid the Iranian consulate in Karbala city on November 3 but a few of lost their lives while doing so.

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The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at SirajShawa@gmail.com

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