Is Iraq steering towards post-sectarianism?
While Iraq is in the grip of a breath-taking summer heat-wave, the odour of dissatisfaction rose in the major southern cities of Basra, Najaf and Karbala and swiftly spread to the outskirts of the capital city Baghdad in July 2018. The spontaneous protests began weeks after the general election concluded in Iraq.
On 12 May 2018, Iraqis went to the ballots to elect members of parliament and subsequently a new prime minister. In a sense, these elections were unique in the history of Iraq since the 2003 invasion for three pivotal reasons. Firstly, it was the first general election since the demise of IS and its proclaimed caliphate in Iraq. Secondly, the election occurred a year after a referendum for independence in the Kurdistan region. Thirdly, the election was marred by regional tensions between regional powers.
The May turnout was reportedly around 45 percent, the lowest since 2003. In some constituencies, the results of the elections were contested and faced recounts. Nevertheless, many commentators were caught off guard by the results of the ballot boxes. Iraqʹs populist Shia cleric, Muqtada Al-Sadrʹs Al-Sairoon party gained more seats than the incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and the powerful coalition of Iranian backed Shia paramilitary factions of Al-Fateh led by Hadi Al-Ameri.
Al-Sadr led a popular movement advocating a cross-sectarian national government and its umbrella party included non-religious parties, including Iraqʹs Communist Party. Nevertheless, after weeks of behind-the-scenes political haggling over which party will dominate the key ministerial positions, protestors in the south of Iraq poured into the streets.
Demonstrations flared over lack of public services. Residents in Basra went on a rampage after accusing the municipality of financial mismanagement, entrenched corruption and failing to provide basic services and systemic nepotism.
For the downfall of traditional parties
Reportedly in late July, thousands of protesters in Baghdad and the southern cities called for the downfall of traditional political parties. Many Iraqis believe that a generation of certain political elites have assumed a central position in ruling the country since the invasion of Iraq – a system of political patriarchy that has put power in the hands of a few for more than a decade.
One resident of Najaf expressed to me, on condition of anonymity, that for a decade appointed governments had no plans to accommodate the Iraqi nationʹs financial concerns. He added that since the Iraqi government declared victory against IS in December 2017, people have become even more frustrated with the authorities. This is because the Iraqi people witness the political elites keenly turning to their convoluted routine of haggling to obtain more leverage, while paying little attention to the economic concerns of Iraqis.