Najaf guesthouse set on fire by protesters (Al Mirbad)
Summer has started in Iraq. Temperatures are rising. The coronavirus is spreading and shutting down large sectors of the country’s non-oil economy. Electricity shortages are starting. Most importantly, the demands of the protesters have never been met. That led to five demonstrations in the south on Sunday.
People took to the streets in Najaf, Dhi Qar, Diwaniya, and Muthanna on Sunday. In Nasiriya, Dhi Qar people gathered at the Appeals Court demanding that the people responsible for the deaths of activists be put on trial, while at the Traffic Directorate the director was called on to resign. In Rifai protesters cut the main road asking for the district head to be replaced. Activists went to the governor’s house in Diwanaiya telling him to step down and also blocked the highway to Muthanna. The government building in Samawa, Muthanna was closed by demonstrators who called for Prime Minister Mustafa Kazemi to pass reforms, that governors be evaluated over their performance, early elections, and to bring to justice those that killed protesters. Najaf saw violence as people burned the outside of a guesthouse used by the governor, while the police fired live ammunition at the crowd wounding several. That was a direct challenge to PM Kazemi who banned such shooting. These are all old grievances activists have been demanding for years now. That comes down to better governance, adequate services, and accountability.
This might be the start of wider demonstrations to come. According to Al Mada several cities in the south are preparing for large protests. Some activists were giving Kazemi time to see whether his administration would be any better than the previous ones. He did order the closure of Thar Allah’s party offices in Basra after its guards shot demonstrators in Basra. He also released almost all the protesters that were detained. He also created a committee to look into the violence perpetrated against the demonstrations. This doesn’t appear to be enough to satisfy the organizers. The result has been small protests across the south almost every day of Kazemi’s government so far, but Sunday was by far the most.
Kazemi is greatly restrained in meeting the demands of activists. He can’t tackle corruption for instance because the ruling parties use it to rule the country. Putting members of the police, army and Hashd al-Shaabi on trial for shooting at demonstrators also could lead to unforeseen consequences within the ranks of the security forces. Forming a committee to look into the issue has historically been used by premiers to make it look like they’re doing something when nothing ever comes of them. Even early voting seem far off. There doesn’t appear to be any rush to draft and pass an election law. That could mean a very long summer for Kazemi if people return to the streets like they have the previous years.
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