The beginning of March 2014 saw another round of protests against Iraq’s new pension law that was passed in February. This was the second time this year people came out onto the streets after the original demonstrations started last year demanding that politicians and high officials give up their lavish retirement plans. Many of the country’s leaders came out in support of the activists then, but when it came time for parliament to deal with the issue this year it passed a piece of legislation that largely maintained the present system. This has angered many in the public and religious establishment who feel like the government has let them down once again, but also led to some political theater by the ruling parties.
On March 7 and 8 there were demonstrations in at least five provinces against the new pension law. That included Baghdad, Maysan, Dhi Qar, Najaf, and Basra. Previously on February 15 there was another round of protests in Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, Dhi Qar, Kirkuk, Muthanna, Basra, Babil, Maysan, and Qadisiyah. This was all started when parliament passed a new pension law on February 3. Immediately afterward the new legislation was widely criticized. Activists promised a new wave of public action, a Sadrist lawmaker said that he would appeal the law to the Federal Court, the Shiite religious establishment in Najaf condemned the act and demanded that it be overturned, the Fadhila party talked about starting a petition to repeal the law, the Supreme Council’s Citizen bloc claimed it kicked out two members for voting for the legislation, and the president’s office refused to sign the bill. Much of this was for political theater however. As several lawmakers pointed out the vast majority of those in attendance voted for the new law. Not only that, but because Mutahidun and half the Kurdish Coalition did not attend the session that meant that most of the Shiite blocs that were complaining about the bill actually voted for it.
The passage of the pension plan came after a series of national protests that started in August 2013. Those happened in Maysan, Qadisiyah, Anbar, Ninewa, Diyala, Kirkuk, Wasit, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, Babil, Karbala, Najaf, Basra, and Baghdad. Like now all types of politicians claimed that they wanted to change the retirement program for high officials such as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Sadr bloc. Again these were attempts to both appease and co-opt the masses that had taken to the streets. Both Sadr and Maliki had made similar remarks when there were protests before in the country, but neither ever followed through with their statements.
In Iraq’s current situation politicians feel like the public is there at their pleasure instead of believing that they serve it. The ruling elite sits atop a vast amount of oil wealth and a bureaucracy, which they are more than willing to put to their service. The pension system is a perfect example where parliamentarians and other top officials get lavish stipends after they retire even if they do not serve their full term. Unfortunately that means the current wave of protests will be as successful as the previous ones to bring about any kind of change to these privileges.
AIN, “Basra tribes council threatens to boycott elections,” 2/10/14
- “Demonstration in Babel demanding to cancel Parliament MPs’ pensions,” 8/29/13
- “Demonstrations in several provinces against privileges granted to key officials,” 3/7/14
- “Fadhila bloc collects MPs’ signatures to request re-voting on Article (38) of Pensions law,” 2/11/14
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- “Urgent…Pension law includes paying retirement salary for officials,” 2/3/14
Al Dhargam, Ali, “Sheikh Hamoudi confirms the dismissal of each deputy who voted in favor of pension law,” Buratha News, 2/9/14
Al Forat, “Dozens of citizens in Basra protest privileges granted to key officials, MPs by Pension Law,” 3/7/14
Al Mada, Karbala activists are preparing to demonstrate against the pension law and threaten to change the political map of the country,” 2/6/14
Al Masalah, “Keywords “strongly supported” reject religious reference to Article 38 in the retirement law,” 2/8/14
Najm, Haider, “MP pensions issue becomes political football: score? nil all,” Niqash, 9/5/13
National Iraqi News Agency, “Citizen bloc dismiss two MPs,” 2/16/14
- “Haider Mulla : 133 deputies voted in favor of Article 38 of the Superannuation Act.,” 2/13/14
Radio Nawa, “19% of the members of state of law, voted in favor of the new pension law,” 2/17/14
Shafaq News, “10 provinces protest to cancel paragraph 37 of the Unified Retirement Law,” 2/15/14
- “After protester in seven provinces… Basra protests,” 10/5/13
- “Demonstrations in several Iraqi cities to celebrate cancellation of MPs pensions,” 10/26/13
- “Kurdistan alliance: 120 MPs voted yes on MPs retirement law,” 2/12/14
- “Legal Committee: Presidency of the Republic has no right to veto laws constitutionally,” 2/18/14
- “Sadr bloc calls Nujaifi to convene a session to re-vote on retirement law,” 2/9/14
Sotaliraq, “Liberal bloc won a lawsuit to cancel pensions,” 10/23/13