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Baghdad Fails to Meet Protesters’ Demands
Iraqi university students take part in an anti-government demonstration in the southern city of Basra on November 25. (Hussein Faleh/AFP via Getty Images)

Baghdad Fails to Meet Protesters’ Demands

Iraqis have lost trust in their leaders – and in their leaders’ promises to adopt reforms

Amid accusations of procrastination, the Iraqi government has moved from suppressing protests to promising reforms, having exhausted almost all ways to contain the anger of the Iraqi street over high unemployment, poor public services and government corruption.

Street protests began on October 1, with demonstrators demanding an overthrow of the country’s entire political system.

Later that month, Iraq’s president, Barham Salih, pledged that his office would draft a new electoral law and overhaul the country’s election commission. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi proposed similar reforms. Yet none of the promises were fulfilled.

Fadel Abu Raghef, an Iraqi political analyst and security expert, told The Media Line that the promises were used to buy time, the goal being to weaken and exhaust the protesters.

“Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is trying to solve the crisis in the country through realistic and important reforms that include repealing [unpopular] laws, but he works alone, without any support or endorsement,” Abu Raghef said. “These improvements need support from the blocs and parties in parliament.”

He added that the Iraqi constitution was resistant to change due to complex mechanisms.

“A regular meeting of these parliamentary blocs is needed to abolish some laws… including election and voting laws, as well as party laws that would limit powers of party officials in government,” he explained.

Abu Raghef added that some Arab countries were working to keep the Iraqi political system as is, fearing a deterioration of the situation, while Iran was working to maintain its influence by preventing the fall of the government.

Tayba al-Tamimi, a Baghdad-based political activist and lawyer, told The Media Line that the government was “trying to delude the people with a package of reforms that are merely illusions and lies.”

She pointed out a proposal by Abdul-Mahdi to reduce gasoline prices by 50 percent.

“So far,” she said, “this decision – which is very simple – has not been implemented, so how can the people believe the rest of the reforms?”

According to Tamimi, the government on Sunday sought out a delegation to represent the protesters in talks.

“The protesters were smarter,” she related. “They sent a list of martyrs who died in the demonstrations, saying: “These are our representatives; negotiate with them!”

At least 330 people have been killed and over 16,000 wounded since the mass protests began. The protests are aimed not only against widespread poverty as well as government corruption and incompetence, but also against excessive foreign influence, particularly by Iran.

When reached by The Media Line, Mohammed Abbas Naji, an analyst and chief editor of “Mukhtarat Iraneya” (Iranian Anthology), a periodical at Cairo’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said that Iran has been boosting its influence in Iraq at the expense of the living conditions of the Iraqi people.

“Iran has focused on political influence to carry out military operations, for example, through the Popular Mobilization Forces [Iranian-supported militias in Iraq] in the war against ISIS,” Naji said.

He added that Iran has not hesitated to use the export of electricity to Iraq as a lever to pressure Baghdad when it serves Tehran’s political interests, saying this has “affected the life of the Iraqis by aggravating the country’s electricity problem.”

On Sunday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq called on the government to undertake maximum restraint, applying criteria for safe engagement to preserve the lives of protesters and security forces alike.

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