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Iraq, a historical breeding ground for violence, war, and unrest, currently faces quakes of political outrage. When the current Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi came into office in October 2018, he gave Iraq a glimpse of hope. Since then, Mahdi has established foreign relations in an attempt to improve Iraq’s economy and infrastructure. However, the country remains heavily dependent on Iranian trade and its oil supply. Many analysts call the rise of protests against corruption and dependence Mahdi’s “greatest challenge” and puts hope in jeopardy.
From June to September 2018, the protesters, mostly made up of young men, have continuously voiced their anger against corruption, unemployment, and poor public services, but riot police gradually dissolved them. All these small demonstrations now accumulate into an escalated wave of outrage. One demonstrator explained, “There is corruption and for 14 years there has been no electricity and no services and no water. We do not want the political parties, we want nothing from them. Just give us a country, we just want a country to live in.” Iraqis also called for an end to foreign interference in politics—whether American or Iranian. Iran is a famous meddler in Iraqi politics, primarily because it supports the current Prime Minister Mahdi.
After the death of Saddam Hussain 16 years ago, the government under Prime Minister Mahdi switched from the Sunni sect of Islam to Shia. Thus, the Shia Muslims, mostly concentrated in Southern Iraq, expected an improvement in their quality of life. Nevertheless, the government’s performance has fallen short of their expectations. Instead, the minority Sunni Muslims have experienced better lives and Northern Iraq is currently calm amidst the violence.
In response to the extensive protests, the government has fiercely cracked down on the people. Police use water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live rounds to quiet the people. So far, at least 110 people have died, more than 6,000 wounded, and many jailed. In addition, social media and internet access are restricted in the regions due to the turmoil. NetBlocks, a non-governmental organization, commented that “the state imposed a near-total telecommunication shutdown in most regions, severely limiting press coverage and transparency around the ongoing crisis.” Yet it seems that the crackdown has backfired: harder crackdown, bolder people.
Since the beginning of October, the chaos has escalated. Unidentified masked men and snipers were spotted on rooftops, shooting down at protestors. According to one Iraqi security source, “We have confirmed evidence that the snipers were elements of militias reporting directly to their commander instead of the chief commander of the armed forces. They belong to a group that is very close to the Iranians.” Still, Iran has denied deploying any militants to Iraqi land. The most potent cleric in Iraq now pressures the Iraqi government to complete an investigation of the sniper shootings in two weeks from October 11.
At this point, a solution sounds impossible. During a press conference, Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh Al-Fayyadh announced the government “had names” of supposed conspirators and traitors and will punish them severely. While PM Mahdi has recognized the people’s right to protest, he condemned the disarray and accused them of undermining peace and stability. In one of his recent speeches, the Prime Minister masked the problem by promising non-existent money for more employment, financial support, and loans.
The clash between the protests and the government is the most extensive violence the country has witnessed since it declared victory over ISIS in 2017, threatening the stability of the Middle East.