What is happening in Iraq?
The protests that began last week in many cities are triggering a new process in Iraq. However, it is difficult to predict where this process will lead to.
Iraq has long fought the Islamic State (IS). In 2016, the Iraqi government, with the support of the international anti-IS coalition and the Hashd al-Shaabi forces, launched an offensive to expel the IS from Iraqi territory. With the liberation of the Hawija district in the Kirkuk region, the IS had been largely defeated on Iraqi territory. After that, the Iraqi government used the referendum in South Kurdistan on September 25, 2017 as an excuse to march into the disputed region and bring it under control overnight.
This strengthened the power of the Iraqi government under Haider al-Abadi. Abadi decided to seize the opportunity to hold the Iraqi parliamentary elections on May 12, 2018, from a moment of strength. In the meantime, more than two months have passed since the elections. But the results of the elections have still not been officially announced. In areas where complaints have been filed, counting has started by hand. In Kirkuk, the count was completed by hand, in Sulaymaniyah as well, but no results have been announced so far. In Hewlêr the count started four days ago, it's still going on. Yesterday, the counting by hand began in Duhok.
While complaints were filed and counting of votes by hand was agreed upon in some areas, works for the formation of the new government have been carried out in Iraq.
The election winner, the Sairun list, the leader of the Sadr movement Muqtada al-Sadr, the second-largest force Bedir list, the founder of Hashd al-Shabi, Hadi al-Amiri, the national alliance of Iyad Alawi and also the current Prime Minister Abadi met and agreed on a government formation.
Even if there are extremely deep contradictions among the Kurds, the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) have come to an agreement on participation in the government. Iraq often had no government for a long time after elections. But for the first time in the 12 May elections - that is, the fourth election after Saddam Hussein's time - opposition to election electoral fraud has been raised. The inconsistencies continued to increase and there were statements that made clear that if the parties did not accept the contradictions, they would not participate in the political process in Iraq.
The problems that suffocate Iraq ...
The lack of results in the elections, the problems with Southern Kurdistan, the problems between the Sunni and Shiite populations, and the fragmentation of the Shiites, cause many more problems, and although Iraq is an oil country, Iraq has high unemployment. The areas that are rich in oil are particularly affected by poverty, lack of public services and problems with water and electricity supply. The success of the Iraqi government and its Prime Minister Abadi against ISIS with the help of the international coalition, as well as the intervention in the disputed regions like Kirkuk, did not produce the results they wanted. While Iraq is suffocating in its problems, the regional and international powers, especially Turkey, have created further problems. Turkey is trying to influence Iraq as a whole, especially in Kirkuk, through the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC). The ITC has formed armed groups, they are trained and equipped with weapons. PUK parliamentarian Şivan Davuudi who recently reported on this situation emphasized he has documents that prove this. He was ready to submit them to the Iraqi government.
The US and Iran are making every effort to form a close-knit government in Iraq. With Sadr, a list known for their proximity to the US and Saudi Arabia, has taken the lead, directly followed by Amiri's list, which is closely related to Iran. In turn, Abadi, who is close to the United States, became third, while Amr Hekim's voting share is not at all negligible.
Although Sadr convened meetings and reached an agreement, no government could be formed yet because the election results have not been formally announced. The formation of a government has become a struggle between the US and Iran. Therefore, the current events and the non-announcement of the election results in the suspicion that international powers influence the elections. Politician, experts, intellectuals and authors from Iraq and Southern Kurdistan make such an evaluation.
While Iraq faces great difficulties due to internal, international and regional conflicts, the people of Basra began to take to the streets because of disruptions in electricity supply, unemployment, economic policies and the resulting poverty. In a short time, the protests spread to the Shiite regions in the south. The protests in Basra were joined by cities such as Najaf, Karbala, Zukkar, Babylon, Hille, Misan and most recently Nasiriyah. Despite the ban, mass protests developed. The people made it clear that they would not recognize any prohibitions and enforced the demonstrations.
The protesters targeted the buildings of the Nuri al-Maliki’s party and the Shiite parties, as well as the local councils. In some cities, party buildings were set on fire. Airports and the borders were closed, councils were occupied. After the end of the first week of the protests, a structure called "Iraqi Council of Demonstrators" has emerged. Leaflets handed out by the structure called for a military rule. The demands on the leaflets of the "Council" point to transition to an Egyptian-like model. The demonstrators have been chanting slogans like "Neither the Sunnis nor the Shiite Liberals." As Nuri al-Maliki and his base, the Shiite Felicity Party, as well as the other parties became targets for the protesters, it becomes clear that this is also a reaction to pro-Iran parties and organizations. Because Maliki is close to Iran and tries to form a government that meets the Iranian demands. Recently, a document was made public, proving that they had agreed on the topic of the Prime Ministry and Presidency with the KDP. According to the document, Nuri al-Maliki is to form the new government as prime minister, while Masoud Barzanî is to become president. The demonstrations are also directed against this agreement to form a government.
Haider al-Abadi held a ministerial meeting, after which he met with security forces. Abadi allocated three billion dollars to Basra after this meeting. Nevertheless, the demonstrations did not end. After the meeting, additional security forces were deployed to reinforce the region. There were explanations in which Abadi threatened with violence: "Against the participants in the unauthorized demonstrations, those who do not adhere to prohibitions, we will intervene." After the security meeting, a brigade was sent to Basra. But this brigade joined the protesters and began to support the people.
The US and Iran are silent
As the protests continue to spread to Baghdad, Turkey, Kuwait and some Western countries have made some statements to date. On the third day of the protests, Kuwait started to mobilize its own border guards. The day before, the Kuwaiti chief of staff visited the forces stationed at the border.
Iran has not issued a statement on the protests in Iraq yet, but there was news in its media that pointed above all to the impoverishment of the population as a cause of protests. The coalition members USA, England and France have so far made no statement. The protests are taking place at a time when discussions are taking place in both the US and the European Parliament to put Hashd al-Shaabi on the terror list. In this context, it does not seem wrong to say that the Western countries have some kind of influence on the protests.
How will the protests evolve?
Despite Abadi’s remarks for an intervention against the protests, they continue until today. It is difficult to say how they will evolve. There are now worries that a military coup could take place. The Iraqi government is trying to take action to stop the protests in economic, military and many other ways. However, they could neither stop the protests, nor prevent them from expanding. Therefore, it is difficult to judge what will become of these protests.