Protests in Iraq

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An Iraqi protester waves the national flag during a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services, and unemployment, in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on October 5, 2019. AFP

For the past several weeks, Iraq has been witnessing intense turmoil, with regular street protests featuring thousands of demonstrators facing off against security forces.

The latest incident took place on Sunday night, when protesters tried to storm the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Karbala. A number of people have reportedly been shot dead in the incident.

Various reasons have been attributed to the protests, including rampant government corruption, economic stagnation and Iranian ‘meddling’ in Iraqi affairs.

The fact is that for several decades now, Iraq has been unable to stabilise itself, for reasons external and internal.

In 1980, Saddam Hussein launched a ruinous eight-year war to counter the Islamic revolutionary government in Iran; hundreds of thousands died on both sides.

Then in 1990, the Iraqi strongman invaded Kuwait, which resulted in another war and crippling sanctions that had a devastating effect on ordinary Iraqis. And while the US-led invasion toppled him in 2003, peace and stability eluded Iraq, with one wobbly government following another, until the militant Islamic State (IS) group devoured huge chunks of Iraqi territory in 2014.

Were it not for support from Iran as well as the US to the Iraqis, IS may well have been knocking on the gates of Baghdad.

It is this series of unfortunate events that, arguably, are largely responsible for the decay in Iraq today.

Perhaps the core reason for the lack of stability has been the Iraqi political elite’s failure to deliver.

While Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who showed no mercy to opponents, the political system that followed him failed, perhaps because – as in Afghanistan’s case – it was implanted from the outside and was inorganic.

Today, an informal confessional system holds sway in Iraq, with power divvied up between the Shia and Sunni Arabs, and Kurds.

While indeed democratic rule is the only solution to Iraq’s problems, Baghdad’s rulers must move beyond the facade of democracy – political parties, elections, parliament sessions – and deliver on the basic principles of representative rule, such as good governance, social justice and respect for fundamental rights.

Iraq’s oil revenues are calculated in tens of billions of dollars.

However, very little of this is trickling down to the common Iraqi, thus fuelling protests.

Blaming Iran or even the American invasion won’t do.

It is time Iraq’s political forces focused on service delivery to ensure rights and prosperity for all the country’s citizens, regardless of religious, sectarian and ethnic background.

Dawn (Pakistan)/Asia News Network