Thursday, May 14, 2020

Protests Return To Iraq Can New Govt Respond To Their Demands?

May 10 protest in Baghdad (AFP)


Just a few days after new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi had his government approved by parliament young people returned to the streets of Iraq demanding better governance. This is putting added pressure upon the premier to carry out reforms.

Demonstrations began on May 10. That day there were protests in the capital’s Tahrir Square, Nasiriya in Dhi Qar, Kut in Wasit where the Badr offices were stormed and burned, Diwaniya in Qadisiya, Karbala city and the highway in Najaf was blocked. PM Kazemi made an announcement that the security forces had to respect human right and no longer shoot people. The next day protests returned to Baghdad where activists threw Molotov cocktails at the security forces on Jumhuriya Bridge in the center of the city. In Najaf people demanded early elections and an investigation into those killed earlier in the protests. In Muthanna and Wasit activists wanted the local governments dismissed, and tires were burned in Nasiriya against Kazemi’s new administration. In Basra City people gathered outside the Thar Allah party headquarters where guards shot five with one later dying. As a result the police raided the party’s office and made arrests showing that they were enforcing Kazemi’s new order.  By May 13, organizing committees across several provinces including Baghdad said they would not escalate things until after the Eid holiday to see whether Premier Kazemi could follow through with any of his promises for reform.

That may be tough for the PM. Taking on corruption or prosecuting those responsible for murdering activists could lead to strong opposition from the security forces, Hashd brigades and the ruling parties. Members of the police, army and pro-Iran Hashd units all shot at demonstrations resulting in casualties. Arresting members of those forces and putting them on trial would bring protests and perhaps open defiance but some such as the Hashd brigades who are only nominally under government control. Likewise tackling corruption would challenge how the elite run Iraq. They steal from the state coffers, give their friends and family contracts, manipulate jobs and pensions in patronage networks to maintain support, etc. This deep seated connection between graft and the parties is the reason why the problem has never been seriously dealt with. Even dismissing provincial governments could lead to a power vacuum across the south. About the only thing Kazemi can promise and follow through with is passing an election law which all the ruling lists agree upon. That leaves Kazemi with little leeway to take any sort of substantive reforms, which could translate into another long spring and summer of activists going out into the streets.

SOURCES

Aldroubi, Mina, “Iraq police raid office of pro-Iran militia accused of shooting protesters,” 5/11/20

Bas News, “Protests Resumed Less than 72 House after New Iraqi Gov’t. Formed,” 5/10/20

Al Maalomah, “Demonstrators in Najaf gather in large numbers near the housing bridges,” 5/11/20

Al Mada, “Protesters in Baghdad and the provinces suspend escalation: handing over local government and sensitive positions to the judiciary,” 5/13/20

Al Mirbad, “In front of the Al-Ahdab oil field in Wasit … Demonstrators demand the dismissal of the local government,” 5/11/20
- “Al-Muthanna protests coordination committee calls for the dismissal of the local government within 25 days,” 5/11/20
- “Renewed burning of tires in Nasiriya, in protest against Al-Kazimi’s mandate,” 5/11/20
- “A strike of contractors in Basra, due to delayed salaries,’ 5/11/20

The National, “Iraq protesters take to streets in ‘message’ for new government,” 5/10/20

NINA, “Armed Groups Hit An Officer And A Number Of affiliates On Jumhuriya Bridge In Baghdad /More,” 5/11/20
- “Basra police closed the headquarters of the “Tha’r Allah” party, against the backdrop of shooting at the demonstrators,” 5/11/20
- “Al-Kadhimi orders to emphasize respect for human rights and prevent shootings at protesters,” 5/10/20
- “A protester was killed and 4 others were wounded in clashes in Basra,” 5/11/20


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