In the middle of July 2016 Iraq’s protests re-started after a short hiatus caused by Ramadan and the huge Karrada bombing in Baghdad. The demonstrations highlighted the difficult alliance forged between the secular civic groups that started the movement and Moqtada al-Sadr who successfully co-opted them to push his own political agenda on the country.
Moqtada al-Sadr called forth the latest round of Iraq protests over the objections of the government. On July 11 he let it be known that his followers would turn out in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Friday. The next day tanks rolled through the streets of the capital, not to put down the marchers or to commit a coup, but to partake in a military parade to celebrate the 1958 coup that overthrew the country’s monarchy as well as recent victories over the Islamic State that was held on July 14. This was a direct challenge to Sadr by Prime Minister Haidar Abadi. The cabinet then called on Sadr to postpone his demonstration, followed by the premier making the same request warning that there could be chaos in the country as a result, and finally a group of clerics called on Abadi to go to Najaf to talk Sadr out of his plans. Finally, the Joint Operations Command declared Sadr’s demonstration’s illegal and told people not to show up. Tens of thousands gathered in Baghdad anyway on July 15 calling for reform. There were also similar events in Maysan, Babil, Najaf, Dhi Qar, Karbala, Muthanna, and Qadisiyah led by secular civil groups. In that last province people complained about the co-option of the protests by religious groups, and called on independents to denounce the Islamists and their partisan and sectarian goals, obviously referring to Sadr. Even though it was only in one governorate Qadisiyah did bring up the differences between the original groups that started the marches and the Sadrists who have taken them over in the capital.
The protests began with leftist and secular groups such as the Communist party. One of their groups was known as Mustamerroun, We Will Not Back Down. While their events were large in the beginning, their numbers began to slip as the summer dragged on. Then they made a deal with the Sadr movement. The latter was able to add thousands of people to the streets of Baghdad every Friday. However, Sadr wanted to use the demonstrations for his own political program of bullying the prime minister and other ruling parties to follow his lead in reforming the government, which he hoped would make him the new political boss of the country. Many of the demonstrators were willing to go along believing that together they were able to push the prime minister into some of his political changes. Not everyone was so happy though as some broke off and created Madaniyoun, the Civil Movement at the start of July. It appears to be in the minority, but showed that not all would go along with Sadr who not only has been part of the government since its inception, which the demonstrators have complained about, but is a religious leader as well.
The secularists and Sadrists seem to have a marriage of convenience right now, and maintain their independence from each other. On July 22 for example, there were protests in six provinces with no participation from the Sadrists. Despite their willingness to work together they possess diametrically opposed goals. The secularists want the institutional structure of the government changed by eliminating corruption, the quotas, etc. which empower the ruling parties. Sadr on the other hand, is only interested in reforms because he can use it against his political rivals. For now the two are united, but it might be only a matter of time before their differences come to the fore.
Associated Press, “Supporters of Shiite cleric rally in Baghdad, demand reform,” 7/15/16
Al-Jaffal, Omar, “Will political party emerge out of Iraqi popular protests?” Al Monitor, 7/15/16
Al Mada, “Dhi Qar protesters denounce Adeeb’s remarks on free education and human rights,” 7/22/16
- “Diwaniyah protesters claim to sustain the momentum of the demonstrations and objected to its kidnapping,” 7/15/16
- “Diwaniyah protesters warn of procrastinating on demands and demand the expulsion of partisan reforms,” 7/22/16
- “Joint Operations: Friday unlicensed demonstration and we will deal with any arms as terrorist threat,” 7/14/16
- “Karbala protesters demanding the amendment of the electora law and resolving its office,” 7/15/16
- “Maysan protesters call for sacking three presidencies and warn of iraq’s external debt burdens,” 7/22/16
- “Maysan protesters claim all politicians are corrupt and ask government to resign or be expelled,” 7/15/16
- “Muthanna protesters are demanding reform of state institutions and step the bleeding,” 7/15/16
- “Muthanna protesters renew their demands for reform and purging state institutions of corruption,” 7/22/16
- “Najaf protesters condemned the Karrada terrorist bombing and demand the government implement reforms,” 7/15/16
- “Najaf protesters criticize the government’s performance and demand accountability of electricity officials,” 7/22/16
- “Nassiriya protesters demanding the execution of those convicted of terrorism and renews their demands for reform,” 7/15/16
- “Protesters demanding the overthrow of Babylon’s “sectarian quota system” and condemning the bombing of Karrada,” 7/15/16
- “The spread of tanks in the streets surprise Baghdadis and paralyze traffic across the capital,” 7/12/16
- “Tahrir protesters hail the resignations of ministers and demanding choice of technocratic personalities,” 7/22/16
New Sabah, “Sadr calls fro demonstration in Tahrir Square next Friday,” 7/11/16
Reuters, “Iraqi forces link up south of Mosul, tightening noose around Islamic State,” 7/13/16
Rudaw, “Iraq holds military parade in central Baghdad, seen as show of force against Sadr,” 7/14/16
Sattar, Omar, “On eve of mass protests, what’s next for Iraq’s political crisis?” Al Monitor 7/14/16