In August and October 2013 thousands of Iraqis went to the streets across the country to protest the pensions that government lawmakers receive. Some were met by friendly officials and went about their business peacefully. In other provinces like Baghdad and Dhi Qar the security forces cordoned off the center of the cities, harassed, beat, arrested, and shot activists and reporters. One cause of the confrontations was the fact that the authorities have denied permits to organizers. Another day of marches is planned for October 26, and again the central government has turned down a request to legally assemble. This is just the latest sign that Iraq’s leaders do not feel that they should answer to the public.
At the end of October the protest movement again plans to march, but they have run into official opposition. The coordinating committee for the activists said that the Interior Ministry denied it a permit to protest on October 26. In response, they said that they filed a lawsuit against deputy Interior Minister Adnan Asadi for violating the constitution’s right to assemble. This would be the third protest since August, and all have been turned down for permits with security being the stated reason. The result has been in Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar the police fired into the crowd wounding several, while in Baghdad the security forces blocked off Tahrir Square the planned protest site, and beat and arrested marchers and journalists. Activists are also circulating a petition against parliament’s pension system. Moqtada al-Sadr criticized that effort saying that it should include all top officials. Parliamentarians reportedly earn $72,000 a year, and receive half that for life even if they don’t serve their full time in office. This has become the latest rallying point for people who are frustrated and angry with the government for not delivering services, security, and other basic needs. Sadr on the other hand, has tried to appropriate all the previous protest movements in Iraq and is trying to do the same with the current one, hence his comments about the petition. That supports his populist image, and his effort to paint the other ruling parties as not worthy to hold office.
Despite the lack of official permission thousands of Iraqis will protest once again at the end of October across the country. As before, they will run into opposition in some cities like Baghdad, while in other governorates there will be no interference. The problem is that these marches have not convinced the government to do anything. Parliament for example has dropped its discussion of pensions as it is currently held up trying to pass a new 2014 election law. At best the legislature would have been willing to amend the pension system, but there was no question of them ever ending it, as the activists have demanded. Lawmakers might make some minor changes to appease the public, but there’s no question of them ending their lavish lifestyle. That’s part of the perks of ruling an oil rich nation. In a rentier-patronage state like Iraq the elite feel no need to be responsive to the people in any meaningful way.
Khudair, Nazek Mohammed, “Security forces suppressed the demonstrations in Baghdad and organizers vows to sue government,” Ur News, 10/5/13
Radio Nawa, “Interior refuses to grant a licsence for a demonstration of 26 October and coordinating committees to charge al-Asadi,” 10/20/13
Al Rayy, “Sadr describes the collection of signatures campaigns to deny pensions for MPs to “missing”,” 10/20/13