Protesting for reform and an end to corruption

Iraq's youth reject the dire status quo

More than a hundred dead and thousands injured: this is the brutal tally thus far of the current unrest in Iraq. Neither the country's political landscape, nor the ubiquitous confessional take on Iraqi politics offer much in the way of explanation. By Karim El-Gawhary

Most of the young demonstrators who are risking their lives simply by daring to take to the streets are not following any political leaders, nor do they have any clear political affiliation. They initially mobilised via social media using the Arabic hashtag equivalent of "Fighting for my rights". What appears to unite them, however, is a profound sense that Iraq offers them no prospects for the future. And for this they hold the ineffective and corrupt state apparatus responsible.

Transparency International’s global corruption index ranks Iraq as the 11th most corrupt nation in the world. Public services are in a catastrophic state. People are especially frustrated by continual power outages, above all in summer when temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Cities like Basra have no clean drinking water; thousands of people have had to receive hospital treatment there for drinking contaminated water.

Abandoned by a corrupt state

Youth unemployment stands at 20 percent. That is especially dramatic, because 60 percent of the population is under 24. Every year due to population growth, 700,000 additional jobs must be created to maintain the already desperate status quo. Then there are the problems with the more than sluggish reconstruction of territories destroyed in the war against IS. People feel abandoned by a state perceived as nothing more than a corrupt kraken-like institution.

The protests are aimed at the nation’s entire political elite. They are a continuation of the protest that rocked Iraq last year – remember Basra – but are more radical in nature. Back then, local political headquarters were stormed by demonstrators. This time, protesters have also broken into several television stations. And instead of local power centres, this time the process is also directed at central government. The demonstrators are vociferously demanding its overthrow.

That the state has responded to the protest movement with unbridled brutality has not deterred the demonstrators, but seems instead to have galvanised them all the more. The security forces are not only using tear gas on the demonstrators, but also live ammunition. Some of those killed were shot by snipers.

Situation unlikely to defuse soon

To prevent the demonstrators from organising themselves through social media, the Internet is repeatedly being shut down. This is one of the reasons why relatively little information on these protests is filtering out to the rest of the world.

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