After years of war and occupation, the security scene in Iraq appeared to be somewhat better than it was in the post-2003 conflict period. The territorial (but not complete) defeat of Daesh in 2017 also brought some sort of optimism to the country. However looking closely, Iraq continues to be a war-torn country where a majority of the population lives in aggravating conditions and reconstruction of infrastructure and a harmonized society remains far-sighted. Iraqis have grown tired of a widely believed culture of corruption, weak governance, and a fragmented political arena. These once again, have sparked public anger.
Protests have erupted across Iraq over government corruption, shortage of basic services, increasing rates of unemployment and general discontent with the political system. The most striking features of these protests are their magnitude – they are the biggest protests since the fall of Saddam Hussein – and the brutality employed by the Iraqi security forces against those opposing the status quo – as of today, leaving 319 dead and 15,000 injured. These protests are the clear proof and example of the loss of trust in the Iraqi political system and instability in the country, putting Iraq in a direction difficult to pull back from.
So what is interfering in Iraq’s road to stability?
Iraq suffers from a heavily fragmented political system where different factions are competing against one another for power and influence and ultimately applying contradictory measures and working at cross purposes. This fragmented political arena is coupled with the integration of various factions of paramilitary groups within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) with differing purposes, into the security forces. This can only lead to the absence of coherent control over the security situation and therefore more escalation of the conflict. Iraq has consequently become an open political space for contestation between weak and divided political and security figures and the Iraqi population.
Now, will the protesters’ claims be heard? Iraq is trying to get onto a path of stability but protests will not end while the root cause of the problem – unwanted and fragmented government and security forces – is still in place. There needs to be a strengthened and more unified national movement that removes the current political system and re-builds one that truly responds to the Iraqis´ basic needs. Although this will be a long process, it is not impossible and has to be urgently pushed for.