In early October, two years of relative stability in Iraq ground to a halt. Large scale protests in the capital of Baghdad and the southern region had been persisting for close to two months. Around 300 people have died in the protests, and close to 15,000 were injured(Rubin, 2019). These protests are not random in any way, it is definitely fair to say that the Iraqi people have good reason to be upset with the current government. These protests are the product of years of pent up frustrations. 200,000 protesters have gathered between early October and November making these protests the largest protests since the state was under control of the Saddam Hussain government(Rubin, 2019)(Kirby, 2019).
These protests occurred due to a multitude of important reasons. The current government is unable to provide proper “Schools, health clinics, [and] jobs” according to one taxi driver who resides in Sadr City(Rubin, 2019). Along with these factors, the nations infrastructure is crumbling. Very little improvements or repairs have occurred to infrastructure 16 years after the United States invasion. Staggering amounts of unemployment have also contributed to the protest’s large scale (Kirby, 2019). Adding on to this list of grievances, there are over 450 billion dollars in oil revenue that are simply missing. This money most likely fell into the pockets of the elites and politicians(Kirby, 2019). Gas prices have also increased at a rapid rate leading to further instability. There is no doubt that these protests are rooted in a strong source of motivation.
While it should be noted that the Iraq government met with protesters to try and propose to increase funding in certain areas, it seemed to be too little too late. Even after these proposals were made protests continued to persist. As one 42-year-old protester said, “Our patience is over now, we waited 16 years after Saddam and we still have nothing.”(Rubin, 2019) After years of hollow promises from politicians, many were not prepared to believe their legislator’s proposals.
As these protests continued to persist, the Iraqi government resorted to using force. As mentioned previously, 15,000 citizens were injured in these protests. The protest originally started in the capital, Baghdad. The original forms of suppression evolved from water cannons to tear gas and rubber bullets. Along with this, there is evidence that snipers fired on protesters as well. The UN has stated that human rights were broken over this period of time as well (Aboulenein, UN, 2019 ).
It is extremely disheartening that these protests led to the deaths of hundreds. The protests lasted for weeks and gained the attention of the UN and the United States (BBC, 2019) who called to end the violence and to reform the government. The Iraqi government has agreed to attempt to reform and to try and turn the page in Iraqi history.
The overall situation is extremely complex and there are many political players involved in the situation, and countless that are deserving of blame. For starters, countless politicians over the years have been unable to correct the major problems affecting the wellbeing of Iraqi people. The current government is built off the principle of powersharing between the Sunni and Shi’ite people. These two religious factions are designated different seats in government, and this has led to many inefficiencies within institutions (Aboulenein, Protesters, 2019). Ending this tradition that began in 2003 is one of the main demands of the protesters (Kirby, 2019).
The Iraqi people have shown their true desire for reform throughout these protests. While the protests have calmed down, unless if the Iraqi government meets the demands of the people further protests could be on the horizon. They have promised many sweeping to their democratic institutions and budgets, however, it is yet to be seen if any of the promised changes actually occur (Kirby, 2019). It would not surprise me if a time of regime change is on the cards in Iraq. While they are clearly not afraid of suppressing protesters, I question whether this tactic will be able to work forever, especially when the UN is watching so closely due to their previous actions. Trust for the government is bound to be at an all-time low after the way in which they handled these protests.
I see Iraq as being a state that suffers from a “resource curse”. Their dependence on oil was a large factor in these protests occurring. Much of the corruption that has plagued their government has occurred with oil money. This oil money could have easily been invested in infrastructure, business, or alternative revenue streams. Instead, it has fallen into the pockets of the rich and the politicians. Fixing this problem could have a positive ripple effect for many across the country.
I highly doubt that all the problems that have affected the Iraqi people will be solved soon due to this corruption. I certainly hope that these problems can be solved without any more bloodshed and violence. The Iraqi government has agreed with the people that there is a need for radical change (BBC, 2019). However, it is yet to be seen if they really believe this, or if they are only showing this view to stay in power. While I do have some hopes that Iraq can reform, I have many reservations about it being a real possibility without regime change. The world will be watching as this next chapter of Iraqi history unfolds with many asking: Can Iraq reform their government without violent regime change?
Aboulenein, Ahmed. “Iraq Violated Human Rights in Protest Crackdown: U.N. Mission.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 23 Oct. 2019, www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-protests-report/iraq-violated-human-rights-in-protest-crackdown-u-n-mission-idUSKBN1X214X.
Aboulenein, Ahmed. “Protesters Block Roads to Iraqi Port, Demand End to Foreign Meddling.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 3 Nov. 2019, www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-protests/protesters-block-roads-to-iraqi-port-demand-end-to-foreign-meddling-idUSKBN1XC0EP.
“Iraq Protests: UN and US Call for Reforms to Help End Unrest.” BBC News, BBC, 11 Nov. 2019, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-50374393.
Kirby, Jen. “Iraq’s Protests, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 5 Nov. 2019, www.vox.com/2019/11/5/20947668/iraqs-protests-baghdad-mahdi-tehran-explained.
Rubin, Alissa J. “’Our Patience Is Over’: Why Iraqis Are Protesting.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/11/20/world/middleeast/iraq-protests-sadr-city.html.