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Rockets Strike Green Zone as Iraqis’ Anti-Government Protests Intensify
Baghdad’s Tahrir Square has been the scene of many anti-government protests, such as this January rally, since demonstrations broke out around the country last October. (Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Rockets Strike Green Zone as Iraqis’ Anti-Government Protests Intensify

The attack comes after a violent day of resumed demonstrations against the political elite after Soleimani’s death

Three rockets were launched on January 21 at Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to the US Embassy and the Iraqi government, with property damage reported but no casualties.

The latest violence falls on the backdrop of particularly bloody protests Monday night, when two policemen and four demonstrators were killed in marches throughout the country. More than 450 people have been killed since the civil unrest began at the beginning of October, with citizens calling for major reforms against the rampant corruption the government has displayed since the US-led Iraq War in 2003.

These demonstrations marked an increase in vigor of protests spurred by domestic discontent, which subsided after the US’s targeted attack that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force responsible for Iran’s regional proxy wars.

According to Dr. Mohammed A. Radhi, a professor in political science at Nahrain University in Baghdad, Soleimani’s death underscored, for the protesters, their leaders’ ineptness:

“The attack came to show the weakness of political elite in dealing with foreign interventions, which added another [level of] motivation to the protesters,” he told The Media Line.

Renwar Najm, a journalist based in Iraqi Kurdistan, contends the demonstrations over Soleimani were separate from the anti-government marches.

This is evidenced as the protests this week took place in Baghdad and Shi’ite cities like Karbala, noteworthy because this segment of Iraqi society was the most outraged over Soleimani’s death, which also took out key Shi’ite leaders.

“Unexpectedly, [Soleimani’s death] didn’t have any essential effect on the [initial demands of the] protests,” he told The Media Line.

Yousif al-Hashimi, an independent journalist and founder and CEO of the Iraq Journal, goes even further when describing those who marched in outrage over Soleimani’s death.

“Those are not protesters; those are Iran-backed crowds and state-funded. aiming to pass the recent [Iraqi parliament] recommendations of expelling the US troops,” he told The Media Line.

Baxtiyar Goran, a political analyst in Iraqi Kurdistan, explains also that the geopolitical situation has impacted the ability of people in Sunni areas.

“The protests are mainly in Shia-populated areas but many Sunnis who are living in those areas are also participating in the protests. The reason Sunni areas are not participating in the protests is that their areas have just recently been liberated from ISIS and it’s difficult for them to protest.”

David Beneš, a British insurance research analyst working on Iraq, argues that while the anti-government rallies continued after the Soleimani’s death, they lost steam.

“January [when Soleimani was killed] has so far seen around 100 less serious protest incidents compared with the same period in December,” he told The Media Line.

Nahrain University’s Radhi says that the protesters’ demands have become more apparent as time has passed.

“After nearly four months, the main demands became clearer, which mostly are: a new independent government, early elections, and reforms to change how these are run, including the creation of a new elections commission and early elections,” he said.

Radhi argues that there are parties amenable to what the protesters are calling for.

“They have some support from political blocks, like [the Shi’ite party] Marjaya in Najaf.”

Iraqi leaders are currently trying to piece together a new government after Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi resigned exactly two months after the unrest began on December 1.

Rumors of a new government have been swirling around the country, with names like former communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi for prime minister being rejected by protesters.

“There is no one set of protesters or one spokesperson to talk on their behalf; therefore, there is no one person who has been picked by all protesters, but they seem to have different choices and rejecting almost all the names mentioned as possible candidates,” Farhad Alaaldin, chairman of Iraq Advisory Council, told The Media Line.

Journalist Najm contends that anyone affiliated with party politics in the government is a no-go for prime minister as far as the demonstrators who have gone online to suggest acceptable candidates are concerned.

“There are some names unofficially proposed by the protesters through social media, for instance, the independent and secular politician Faiq Al Sheikh Ali. However he has not backed by any political bloc in the parliament, thus it is unlikely for him to be the next PM,” Najm said.

This highlights the lack of power the average Iraqi has over the choice of prime minister. “Given the diverse type of protesters and their diverse background, in so many cities, it is not easy for them all to agree on one single candidate, nor there is a mechanism that enables them to pick a candidate,” Alaaldin said.

The politicians that demonstrators tend to prefer, in addition, face more roadblocks than traditional contenders, as they must gain the support of the old guard in the legislature, which is a crucial component of securing the premiership.

Research analyst Beneš explained that the sectarian nature of Iraqi politics makes selecting a prime minister difficult even in normal circumstances.

“Candidates also face structural barriers unrelated to the current protest crisis. Iraq’s premiership has traditionally always gone to a Shi’a, who constitute a majority in Iraq,” he told The Media Line.

Who the next premier will be has become the question du jour in Iraq.

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