Aqeel Abood, ISS Fellow:
July 31, 2015 was another extremely hot day in the capital of Iraq Baghdad city and almost in all other Iraq cities that saw ordinary and educated people pouring into the streets protesting the severe lack of services like Electricity, Water, and most definitely the high scale of corruption which is destroying the society as a whole.
Protests had happened before in Baghdad and in other major Shia cities in the central and southern regions of Iraq for the same reasons, and they ended in a very violent way, lives lost and the central government and local governments did not do anything to fix the problems addressed by protesters. The central government and local governments have continued to ignore people demands of providing efficient services and curbing corruption.
So, why Iraqis think that protesting this time is different from the previous ones? The rapid advance of the terrorist group, Daesh, in early June of last year and the sudden and embarrassing collapse of the Iraqi Army and the fear of the fall of Shia holy cities in Najaf and Karbala in the hands of Daesh has forced the Shia Hawza in Najaf to issue a Fatwa to all Iraqi to fight this terrorist group and the Shia never looked back and marched in tens of thousands obeying Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s Fatwa to fight the terrorist group to stop it, and so the did.
Those people who obeyed Sistani’s Fatwa are called the “Popular Mobilization” (Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi), and they range from workers, students, teachers, and other public servants who left everything behind them and went to fight to liberate Iraqi cities taken by Daesh. The massive sacrifices by the PM has encouraged its leaderships and ordinary people to press the central government and local governments officials to rethink their methods of doing business that had many negative implications on people’s living standards.
This time, the government has to listen, because without the PM, Daesh could easily advanced to the capital, Baghdad, and to the Holy Shia cities, thus upsetting these people who have brothers, fathers, husbands fighting in the PM would be a great mistake. But what is really striking at this time is the direct involvement of the Hawza in Najaf in the events. The Hawza’s neutral position between the government and the people previously had been understood by most Iraqis as an attempt by the Hawza to distance itself from the chaotic scene and to maintain a mediating role, but this position has changed and we’ll see the Hawza more and more involved in public affairs from now on, and the strong message delivered by one of Ayatollah Sistani deputies on Friday June 31, to the central government was a clear indication of this direct involvement.
Now, do we think that providing good services such as electricity and clean water will ease the tension between the Central government, local governments on one hand and the people on the other hand? Or will providing such good services be the ultimate goal of the protesters? The answer is “No”. The demands should run deeper by the people, and meaningful changes wouldn’t be achieved unless curbing corruption becomes a priority. Corruption runs so deep in both highest and the lowest structures of the central government and local governments as well, and unless the government addresses this issue with the highest level of transparency, the problems simply won’t go away. Thus, we believe that protesting should continue on daily basis and protesters should develop a higher level of understanding for the meaning of protest.
Good and lasting solutions to problems won’t come easily, especially when the central government is engulfing itself with the highest level of corruption. Once the pattern has established, the protests should then move to the higher level of demands, that is the rethinking of the whole political system imposed in the aftermath of the occupation of Iraq in 2003.
We are not delusional in addressing the main issue here and attempting to find a solution to it. Rather we think that the havoc in the country is the result of the chaotic political system running the country, thus the aim should be toward changing the political system if Iraqis want durable solutions to their problems.