Protests across Iraq against government policies

Iraqis of mixed political and religious affiliations gathered on streets to voice their discontent with their ‘corrupt government’

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Thousands of Iraqi demonstrators gather at Tahrir Square to protest power cuts in Baghdad, Iraq on August 7, 2015.

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets for their second Friday protests, starting from central Baghdad all the way to Basra, calling on the prime minister to dissolve the parliament and sack "corrupt government officials", showing dissatisfaction with the current government.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children protested, waving Iraqi flags, even though security forces blocked the people from entering Iraq's Tahrir Square and searched anyone who entered the area.

"In the name of religion, the thieves robbed us," the protesters chanted.

Men with the Popular Mobilization Forces, a government-backed Shiite militia group currently fighting ISIS insurgency, showed up at the demonstrations and handed out ice water bottles to the protesters, who welcomed the Shiite forces gesture with support.

The Mobilization Forces gained US-recognition last year, with pre-existing fighters and new volunteers joining to reinforce the Iraqi military after it was defeated in the face of ISIS militants that captured a full third of the country.

"The government is robbing the Mobilization Forces too!" the protesters cried, with many Shiite fighters claiming they weren't receiving the salaries that were promised to them.

The people called on authorities throughout the protests to address the country's urgent electricity problems as temperatures in the capital soared above 50 degrees Celsius.

With no reaction from the Shiite-dominated government following last Friday's demonstrations, the demand for a government change intensified.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al Abadi nears his one-year anniversary in office, as he faces his greatest challenge yet as an economic crisis and an ongoing war with ISIS militants put a strain on domestic improvements.

"Change, that's what we need," said schoolteacher Najla Malek, one of the protesters. "The problems in this country have become too many to list. And our leaders talk a great deal but then they do nothing to fix them."

Organizers of the protest said that about 75 percent were liberals, communists, linked to various political groups for youth, or non-affiliated with any political party or orientation.

Members of the lawyers group marched along the protestors in their judicial robes demanding basic human rights.

Badr and Asaib al Haq, which are two of Iraq's most powerful Shiite organisations, were represented at the square, along with a few religious clerics who kept a low profile.

Fadel el Khafaji, who has a degree in engineering but sells women's clothing instead, said, the problems, include "unemployment, general finances, human rights, where are the proceeds from our oil wealth, where is an end to this war we are living through?"

"The only solution is to dissolve the parliament and restore presidential authority." Khafaji added.

Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani addressed the prime minister in his Friday sermon, through his spokesman Ahmed al Safi. He said that Abadi must be more "daring and courageous" in his plan to reform the government, urging him to attack "with an iron fist anyone who is tampering with the people's money."

The prime minister's office replied that Abadi is "fully committed to the valued guidance of the supreme religious authority" and added that the premier "pledges to announce a comprehensive plan of reform and work on the implementation" of a reform program.

Iraqi Shias turned against their former prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, because they saw him as a controlling leader who monopolized power and encouraged corruption within the societies and government.

Critics say Maliki played a major role in the Iraqi army's collapse against ISIS.

During the 2011 pan-Arab uprisings, Iraqis attempted similar anti-government protests calling for change but were strongly suppressed by Maliki.

Abadi vowed to form a government based on "efficiency and integrity" when he was named premier elect on August 10 last year.

However, protesters argued that they were tired of being sidelined along with their problems due to the ongoing conflicts with ISIS.

Iraq's speaker of parliament, Salim al Jabouri, said in a televised speech on Friday, that the parliament "will interrogate all the ministers in the government who the protesters demand to be questioned."

"We do not hesitate in questioning both those suspected of theft," Jabouri, Iraq's most senior Sunni politician, added but called on the demonstrators to "exercise their constitutional right" without turning to violence.


TRTWorld and agencies