As the demonstrations appear to be leaderless and without a specific agenda, except for expressing general dissatisfaction and impatience with conditions in the country, it remains unclear, however, whether the protests will produce any of the desired changes.  

Imad Harb, director of research and analysis at the Arab Center in Washington DC, writes that the protests "offer another example of an approaching, painful, and final collapse of the traditional Arab political order that has shown its impotence in addressing the myriad problems besetting Arab societies today." Furthermore, a commentary published by Middle East expert and head of research at Gulf State Analytics Giorgio Cafiero on LobeLog, posits that the recent unrest in Iraq should be interpreted in the wider context of turmoil that has been spreading all over the Arab region, as the citizens of Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Sudan express their deep dissatisfaction with their corrupt governments. According to him, "it is fair to conclude that the Arab Spring has reached Iraq."

Can the government regain control of the situation?

The government’s brutal response to the unrest and the high number of civilian casualties has put Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Mahdi under great pressure. Despite promising reforms and ordering a broad cabinet reshuffle, he has so far struggled to address the protesters’ complaints and instead continues to make blunder after blunder. At the beginning of October, for instance, Staff Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, widely perceived as a national hero due to his role in fighting Islamic State, was demoted.

Then there is the ongoing use of live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protesters, which could prove the final nail in the prime minister’s coffin. In such circumstances, it is highly unlikely that mere promises will be able to calm tensions in the country.

What is more, the fragile coalition over which Abdel Mahdi presides has begun to crack, making his position even more uncertain. While it is hard to imagine that the current Iraqi government will be able to introduce any major reforms, since the prime minister is actually a hostage to the powerful political and paramilitary factions, Mahdi is right about one thing – in his speech after the first wave of protests he declared that there are "no magical" solutions to the problems.

The problems faced by the Iraqis are so numerous and complex that many observers fear that no-one will be up to the task of delivering the much-needed reforms. Solving the social and economic crisis that is at the heart of the protests would require painful cuts to the public sector, which already employs over 3 million Iraqis, as well as removing subsidies for gas, food and electricity. Unpopular at the best of times, such measures would merely be likely to provoke more unrest in the current climate. 

Last but not least, even though the protests are not sectarian in motivation, sectarianism remains firmly rooted in Iraqi society. Powerful political factions such as the pro-Iranian Fatah party of Hadi al-Ameri, the Axis party of Khamis Khanjar favoured by Iraqi Sunnis and the Barzani clan’s Kurdistan Democratic Party all aim to limit the power of Bagdad’s central government and are thus largely contributing to the impotence of the Iraqi state. We must hope that Iraq is not heading towards disaster along Syrian lines. 

Stasa Salacanin

© Qantara.de 2019

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