October saw hundreds of people across Iraq return to the streets to protest against pensions for the country’s politicians. This was the third major day of demonstrations over this issue, and organizers promised more unless things were changed. After the first round of marches parliament and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised to reform the system, but nothing has happened since then. Nothing likely will, as part of the rewards for getting elected to office is all the money that comes along with it.
There were protests in at least 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces on October 5, 2013. That included Baghdad, Basra, Maysan, Najaf, Babil, Qadisiyah, Anbar, Ninewa, Karbala, Diyala, Tamim, Dhi Qar, Wasit, Muthanna, and Tamim. In the cities of Baghdad and Kirkuk the security forces attempted to stop the protests, and there were confrontations. In the capital for example, the authorities refused to issue permits citing security reasons. As happened during the first protests in August, the police blocked off entry to Tahrir Square in the center of the city, and then beat, and arrested people as they approached the area. Organizers threatened to sue the government for suppressing the assembly. In Samawa in Muthanna governorate activists went to the city center where they were met by the security forces, but there were no incidents. In other places the reception for the protesters was completely different. In Dhi Qar, Governor Yahya Mohammed Baqir al-Nasiri met the demonstrators in Nasiriyah, and accepted their demands. This came after the governor apologized to the public for the treatment protesters faced back in August when SWAT fired into the air to disperse the crowd and ended up wounding ten. Organizers promised even greater marches on October 26 if there was no change to the pension system. Part of the perks of becoming a politician in Iraq is the vast privileges that they acquire. One of those is a robust pension. It’s been reported that lawmakers make $72,000 a year compared to $6,000 for an average person. Politicians earn half of that for life even if they do not finish their term. This became the latest topic for protest in Iraq after previous ones focused upon the lack of services and corruption. On August 29 and 31, hundreds of people came out in various cities across Iraq demanding that the pensions be ended. The next day, Prime Minister Maliki gave a speech where he promised to deal with the issue, and a bill was introduced to change the system, but nothing happened afterward as has become all too common in the country. After that first round organizers in various cities said they would return in September, and they have. They criticized the proposed law saying that it was all for show. They were right, Iraq’s elite are not going to cut their own funds especially because they don’t really have to answer to the public. In Iraq, because of its vast oil wealth the government earns all the revenue through oil and distributes it to the people through jobs and patronage. That’s why the government has ignored previous protests about social spending. There might be added pressure on Baghdad to do something since elections are due next year, but if anything does it is sure to be superficial and may never materialize. That means more protests in the future.
Protesters in Basra On Oct. 5 (Shafaq News)
Anti-pension protesters in Samawa (Radio Free Iraq)
Governor of Dhi Qar meeting with activists in Nasiriyah (Radio Nawa)
Many Iraqis are becoming tired of their elected officials. Every four years they promise reforms and to develop the country, but very little changes. The elite live a life apart from the public, and feel that the people should be happy that they are doing things for them rather than believing they should answer to the voters. This is causing growing disconnect between the two, which has been shown by protests over the last several years. Only the on-going Sunni demonstrations have been able to sustain themselves for a long period of time, and none has achieved any meaningful changes. That’s because of how the country’s economy and government are structured. There is little accountability and the politicians would like to keep it that way. That means the pension protests may come and go, but there will be another round of demonstrations over another issue soon enough.
AIN, “Demonstration in Babel demanding to cancel Parliament MPs’ pensions,” 8/29/13
Hasan, Harith, “New Iraqi Protest Movement Targets Corrruption,” Al-Monitor, 9/11/13
Independent Press Agency, “Demonstration in Kirkuk, demanding to cancel the pensions for the three presidencies,” 10/5/13
Khudair, Nazek Mohammed, “Security forces suppressed the demonstrations in Baghdad and organizers vows to sue government,” 10/5/13
Al-Mada, “”Parliamentarians retirement” the fifth set of a date next month to demonstrate against the Unified Retirement Law,” 9/24/13
Najm, Haider, “MP pensions issue becomes political football: score? nil all,” Niqash, 9/5/13
Radio Free Iraq, “Demonstrators in Samawah against the government 20 days to achieve demands,” 10/5/13
Radio Nawa, “The governor of Dhi Qar province to attend a demonstration site Nasiriyah, receives the demands of the demonstrators for consideration,” 10/5/13
Al Rayy, “The governor of Dhi Qar apologize to its citizens and form an investigative committee to uncover the circumstances of the events of yesterday,” 9/1/13
Shafaq News, “After protester in seven provinces… Basra protests,” 10/5/13
Ur News, “Demonstrators: open-ended sit and major demonstration the end of next September,” 9/1/13