Iraq protests : PM Adel Abdul Mahdi will resign if replacement is found

The mass anti-government protests have spread across Iraq over the past month
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi will resign if political parties can agree on his replacement, the president has said, as mass protests continue. President Barham Saleh is also drafting a new election law that will allow early parliamentary polls to be held.Tens of thousands of people have taken part in two waves of protests this month to demand more jobs, an end to corruption, and better services.More than 250 have been killed in clashes with security forces.At least one protester died early on Thursday after being hit in the chest by a tear-gas canister at a demonstration in Baghdad - the sixth such fatality in a week.
Riot police have fired tear gas to stop protesters attempting to reach Baghdad's Green Zone
Amnesty International said riot police in the capital had been firing heavy, military-grade tear-gas grenades at people at point-blank range, apparently aiming for their heads or bodies. Photos have showed grenades lodged in some victims' skulls."What we've documented with these grenades in Baghdad goes far beyond misuse of a 'safer' weapon - the very design of the grenades being used is maximising the horrific injuries and death," said Lyn Maalouf, the group's Middle East director."Iraq's police force must recall them from use immediately," she added.
Mr Abdul Mahdi, a veteran Shia Islamist politician with a background in economics, became prime minister just over a year ago, promising reforms that have not materialised.On 1 October, young Iraqis angered by his failure to tackle high unemployment, endemic corruption and poor public services took to the streets of Baghdad for the first time. The protests escalated and spread across the country after security personnel responded with deadly force.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he was unable to call early elections After the first wave of protests, which lasted six days and saw 149 civilians killed, Mr Abdul Mahdi promised to reshuffle his cabinet, cut the salaries of high-ranking officials, and announced schemes to reduce youth unemployment.But the protesters said their demands had not been met and returned to the streets on Friday.The epicentre of the unrest has been Baghdad's central Tahrir Square. Protesters there have been attempting to cross a nearby bridge to the fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.On Monday, the leader of the largest bloc in parliament, populist Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, urged the prime minister to call early elections.
The next day, Mr Abdul Mahdi told Mr Sadr in an open letter he would be willing to do so, but that there were constitutional requirements "the prime minister must abide by.""If the goal of elections is to change the government, then there is a shorter way: for you to agree with [Hadi] al-Amiri to form a new government," he wrote, referring to Iran-backed paramilitary leader who leads parliament's second largest bloc.Mr Sadr responded by calling on Mr Amiri to help him oust the prime minister through a vote of no confidence in parliament, which would trigger elections.
On Thursday, President Saleh announced on television that Mr Mahdi had agreed to step down once the blocs found "an acceptable alternative"."This is in light of the commitment in the constitutional and legal contexts to prevent a constitutional vacuum," he added.The president said he would also call early elections, but not until a new electoral law had been passed.
The epicentre of the unrest has been Baghdad's central Tahrir Square
In the space of a few days, two Arab prime ministers have been forced to resign because of street protests - the other one was Saad Hariri in Lebanon.BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says the demonstrators in both countries have remarkably similar grievances - and they are shared by many others across the region.It is too early to say whether there will be upheaval on the scale of the Arab uprisings of 2011, he adds, but the factors that took people on to the streets then still exist in 2019.
Is a new Arab Spring unfolding in the Middle East?
Protests have been seen throughout the Middle East, including in IraqAs the last of the Middle Eastern summer fades away, is the region slipping into a new Arab spring?In Iraq, demonstrators are being shot dead in the streets. In Lebanon, protesters have paralysed the country and seem set to bring down the government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. In recent weeks the Egyptian security forces crushed attempts to protest against the police state of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt have plenty of differences. But the protesters have grievances in common, and they are shared by millions of people, particularly the young, across the Arab Middle East.
A rough approximation is that 60% of the region's population is under the age of 30. A young population can be a great asset to a country. But only if the economy, the educational system and the institutions of the state are functioning well enough to accommodate their needs, and with some exceptions that is not happening.The young in Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere in the region are very often consumed by frustration that slips easily into rage.Rampant corruption
Two of the biggest complaints are against corruption and unemployment. One leads to another.Iraq ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to a number of indices of worldwide corruption. Lebanon is slightly better, but not by much.Corruption is a cancer. It eats away at ambition and hope for those who become its victims.
The eleventh day of protests in Lebanon saw an attempt to form a human chain 170km (105 miles) longThe losers in a corrupt system can get very angry, very quickly when even the educated cannot get jobs, and they see small cliques lining their pockets.When the institutions of the state - the government, the courts and the police - are implicated, it is a sign that the entire system is failing.In both Lebanon and Iraq, demonstrators not only want their governments to resign. They also want the entire system of governance to be reformed or replaced.One of the tragic realities of Iraq is that violence has become ingrained in society. When demonstrators, chanting against unemployment, corruption and the government, took to the streets, it did not take long for live ammunition to be used against them.The demonstrations on Iraq's streets, so far, seem to be leaderless. But the fear in the government must be that as time goes by, and casualties mount, they could become more organised.
Protests have spread to the holy Shia city of Karbala in IraqDemonstrators have targeted bastions of government power, notably the walled off Green Zone in Baghdad. It used to be the centre of the American occupation. Now it is the place where government offices and embassies are located, as well as the homes of prominent people.The demonstrations started in Baghdad, and have spread. Overnight in the holy city of Karbala there were unconfirmed reports of many killed and injured when demonstrators were fired on. Video has been posted on social media of men running from live fire.Ever since the protests started, the casualty rate has climbed steadily. Reports from Baghdad say that some Iraqi soldiers have appeared wearing the national flag wrapped around their shoulders, showing what seems to be some solidarity with the protesters.But reports also say that men dressed in black, some masked, have been opening fire. One theory is that they are from pro-Iranian militias.The demonstrations started in Lebanon on 17 October after the government tried introduce taxes on tobacco, petrol and WhatsApp calls. The new taxes were cancelled quickly but it was too late.To start with, the demonstrations in Lebanon were good-humoured. But the very real tensions in the country are showing, with some outbreaks of violence.
Revolutions toppled regimes across the Middle East eight years agoThe uprisings of that year did not bring the freedom longed for by the people who demonstrated against tyrannical leaders. But the consequences of the upheaval are still being felt, among them wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya, and a much tougher police state in Egypt.And the grievances which fuelled the 2011 uprisings are still there, in some cases deepened.The failure of corrupt systems to accommodate the needs of a large and young population guarantees that the anger and frustration behind the demonstrations will not go away.
Iraq protests: What's behind the anger?
While in the past few years protests in Iraq have become common, the latest wave of unrest which has reportedly left over 100 people dead and thousands more injured could mark a dangerous turning point.Iraqis are not simply calling for the downfall of a leader or political party. Instead, they are calling for the end of a political system which has existed since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 - a system which, they argue, has failed them.They specifically point to the way government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas (a system known as muhassasa), rather than on merit. Aggrieved Iraqis say this has allowed Shia, Kurdish, Sunni and other leaders to abuse public funds, enrich themselves and their followers and effectively pillage the country of its wealth with very little benefit to most citizens.
Coming to power last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi's government of technocrats promised a solution to the corruption and the gap between the elite and ordinary citizens. Almost one year in, he has proven unable and unwilling to truly push back against the political class.Instead, he has continued to cut deals with the same elite. After all, these leaders put him in power. And without a political party, this prime minister - a compromise candidate put in place by the two biggest competing Shia-led blocs - is at the behest of the political class more than any of his predecessors.
These protests have led to a particularly dangerous environment.Some political figures who view themselves as the protectors of this system consider these protests to be existential threats. Unlike ever before in Baghdad, these leaders have turned to violence - using snipers and assassins - to target protesters and defend their system.
Last year, during protests in Basra, security forces similarly fired on demonstrators leading to a swift end as protesters retreated, fearing for their lives. This year, in Baghdad and elsewhere, the protectors of the system are applying the lessons of Basra 2018.In the past, protests have usually erupted during the summer, when scorching heat and the government's inability to provide basic services - such as electricity or water - reaches a boiling point and Iraqis hit the streets.Ironially, this year, services have slightly improved, owed partly to heavy rainfall and a less intense summer. But reforms to the system remain a distant reality.
Last weekend's demotion of Staff Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, who has become a legendary figure who led the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, angered many Iraqis.They believed the national hero lost his job because of his efforts to fight corruption and the political class within his counter-terrorism service (CTS). And to them, if the hero who fought IS can't fight corruption and the political class, then who can?
Sixteen years since regime change, Iraqis - and particularly the youth in the protests - are fed up with the façade of reform and with leaders who have learned to use the right words but are unwilling or unable to reform the system.Yet, these protests are largely leaderless and lack any organisational structure. They are unlikely to lead to systemic change or revolution. Instead, the protectors of the system will double down by using violence, suppression, and coercion, to limit freedoms of association and speech.This weekend's attacks on media outlets in Baghdad and the cutting of the internet are glimpses into this new environment.Therefore, while the protests and bloody response suggest a transformative moment, it may be towards an Iraq that is even more authoritarian.
Iraq protests: What's behind the anger?
By Renad Mansour
Research Fellow, Chatham House
7 October 2019
Share this with Facebook Share this with Messenger Share this with Twitter Share this with Email Share
Related TopicsIraq protests
Media captionWatch protesters flee in Baghdad as Iraqi security forces fire tear gas
While in the past few years protests in Iraq have become common, the latest wave of unrest which has reportedly left over 100 people dead and thousands more injured could mark a dangerous turning point.
Iraqis are not simply calling for the downfall of a leader or political party. Instead, they are calling for the end of a political system which has existed since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 - a system which, they argue, has failed them.
They specifically point to the way government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas (a system known as muhassasa), rather than on merit. Aggrieved Iraqis say this has allowed Shia, Kurdish, Sunni and other leaders to abuse public funds, enrich themselves and their followers and effectively pillage the country of its wealth with very little benefit to most citizens.
Image copyrightAFP
Image caption
The casualty toll has been rising despite an indefinite curfew
Coming to power last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi's government of technocrats promised a solution to the corruption and the gap between the elite and ordinary citizens. Almost one year in, he has proven unable and unwilling to truly push back against the political class.
Instead, he has continued to cut deals with the same elite. After all, these leaders put him in power. And without a political party, this prime minister - a compromise candidate put in place by the two biggest competing Shia-led blocs - is at the behest of the political class more than any of his predecessors.
Transformative moment
These protests have led to a particularly dangerous environment.
Some political figures who view themselves as the protectors of this system consider these protests to be existential threats. Unlike ever before in Baghdad, these leaders have turned to violence - using snipers and assassins - to target protesters and defend their system.
Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption
PM Adel Abdel Mahdi has not delivered on promises to crack down on corruption
Last year, during protests in Basra, security forces similarly fired on demonstrators leading to a swift end as protesters retreated, fearing for their lives. This year, in Baghdad and elsewhere, the protectors of the system are applying the lessons of Basra 2018.
In the past, protests have usually erupted during the summer, when scorching heat and the government's inability to provide basic services - such as electricity or water - reaches a boiling point and Iraqis hit the streets.
Ironically, this year, services have slightly improved, owed partly to heavy rainfall and a less intense summer. But reforms to the system remain a distant reality.
Last weekend's demotion of Staff Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, who has become a legendary figure who led the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, angered many Iraqis.
They believed the national hero lost his job because of his efforts to fight corruption and the political class within his counter-terrorism service (CTS). And to them, if the hero who fought IS can't fight corruption and the political class, then who can?
Unemployment in Iraq
Modelled ILO estimates, %
Source: World Bank
Sixteen years since regime change, Iraqis - and particularly the youth in the protests - are fed up with the façade of reform and with leaders who have learned to use the right words but are unwilling or unable to reform the system.Yet, these protests are largely leaderless and lack any organisational structure. They are unlikely to lead to systemic change or revolution. Instead, the protectors of the system will double down by using violence, suppression, and coercion, to limit freedoms of association and speech.This weekend's attacks on media outlets in Baghdad and the cutting of the internet are glimpses into this new environment.Therefore, while the protests and bloody response suggest a transformative moment, it may be towards an Iraq that is even more authoritarian.
Do today's global protests have anything in common?
22 October 2019
Share this with Facebook Share this with Messenger Share this with Twitter Share this with Email Share
Related TopicsHong Kong anti-government protests
Image copyrightAFP/GETTY/REUTERS
Image caption
Protests have been taking place in Chile, Hong Kong and Lebanon
In recent weeks, mass protests have broken out in countries from Lebanon to Spain to Chile. All are different - with distinct causes, methods and goals - but there are some common themes that connect them.
While thousands of miles apart, protests have begun for similar reasons in several countries, and some have taken inspiration from each other on how to organise and advance their goals.
Here's a look at the issues at stake - and what binds many of those taking to the streets.
Inequality
Many of those protesting are people who have long felt shut out of the wealth of their country. In several cases, a rise in prices for key services has proved the final straw.
Demonstrations began in Ecuador this month when the government announced that it was scrapping decades-old fuel subsidies as part of public spending cuts agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The change led to a sharp rise in petrol prices, which many said they could not afford. Indigenous groups feared that the measure would result in increased costs for public transport and food, and that their rural communities would be hardest hit.
Media captionFires and clashes as Quito descends into chaos
Protesters blocked highways, stormed parliament and clashed with security forces as they demanded an end to austerity and the return of fuel subsidies. The government backed down after days of mass protests and the action came to an end.
A hike in transport prices has also sparked protests in Chile. The government blamed higher energy costs and a weaker currency for its decision to increase bus and metro fares, but protesters said it was just the latest measure to squeeze the poor.
Protests around the world in pictures
As demonstrators clashed with security forces on Friday evening, President Sebastián Piñera was pictured dining in an upmarket Italian restaurant - a sign, some said, of the chasm between Chile's political elite and the people on the streets.
Chile is one of Latin America's wealthiest countries but also one of its most unequal - it has the worst levels of income equality among the 36 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Income inequality
How Chile ranks worst among OECD nations in the gap between the richest and the rest
*Compares cumulative proportions of the population against cumulative proportions of income they receive. Key nations shown among 35 OECD members ranked
Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Like in Ecuador, the government backtracked and suspended its fare hike in an effort to quell the protests. But the protests continued, growing to take in wider grievances.
"This is not a simple protest over the rise of metro fares, this is an outpouring for years of oppression that have hit mainly the poorest," one student taking part in the action told Reuters news agency.
Lebanon has seen similar unrest, with plans to tax WhatsApp calls prompting wider protests about economic problems, inequality and corruption.
Image copyrightREUTERS
Image caption
Protesters in Lebanon have been complained of inequality and corruption
With debt levels soaring, the government has been trying to implement economic reforms to secure a major aid package from international donors. But many ordinary people say they are suffering under the country's economic policies and that government mismanagement is to blame for their troubles.
"We are not here over the WhatsApp, we are here over everything: over fuel, food, bread, over everything," said Abdullah, a protester in Beirut.
Corruption
Claims of government corruption are at the heart of several of the protests, and are closely linked to the issue of inequality.
In Lebanon, protesters argue that while they are suffering under an economic crisis, the country's leaders have been using their positions of power to enrich themselves, through kickbacks and favourable deals.
"I've seen a lot of things here but I have never seen such a corrupt government in Lebanon," said 50-year-old protester Rabab.
The government on Monday approved a package of reforms, including slashing politicians' salaries, in an effort to quell the unrest.
People in Iraq have also been calling for the end of a political system that they say has failed them. One of the main points of contention there is the way government appointments are made on the basis of sectarian or ethnic quotas, instead of on merit.
Demonstrators argue that this has allowed leaders to abuse public funds to reward themselves and their followers, with very little benefit to most citizens.
Image copyrightEPA
Image caption
Iraqi protesters say the political system is corrupt
Protests against alleged government corruption have also taken place in Egypt. The rare demonstrations in September were prompted by a call from Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian businessman living in self-imposed exile in Spain, who accused President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military of corruption.
His allegations that Mr Sisi and his government have been mishandling funds resonated with many Egyptians who have grown increasingly disaffected by austerity measures.
Political freedom
In some countries, protesters are angered by political systems in which they feel trapped.
Demonstrations in Hong Kong began this summer over a bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China in certain circumstances. Hong Kong is part of China but its people enjoy special freedoms and there is a deep sense of fear that Beijing wants to exert greater control.
Like fellow protesters in Chile and Lebanon, the mass action in Hong Kong led to the withdrawal of the controversial legislation, but the protests themselves continued. Among their demands, protesters now want complete universal suffrage, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality and amnesty for demonstrators who have been arrested.
Their tactics have inspired political activists halfway across the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in Barcelona to express anger over the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders. The separatists were convicted on 14 October of sedition over their role in a 2017 referendum outlawed by the Spanish courts and a subsequent declaration of independence.
Shortly after the sentence was given, people in Barcelona received a message on a popular encrypted messaging service telling them to go to Barcelona's El Prat airport, mimicking a tactic used by Hong Kong protesters.
Media captionCatalan protesters clash with police at Barcelona airport
As they made their way to the airport, a group of youths shouted: "We're going to do a Hong Kong", according to local media reports.
Catalan protesters have also been distributing infographics made in Hong Kong that detail how demonstrators can protect themselves from police water cannon and tear gas. "Now people must be in the streets, all revolts start there, look at Hong Kong," one protester in Barcelona told AFP news agency.
Climate change
Of course, many of the protests that you hear about will have been linked to the environment and climate change. Activists from the Extinction Rebellion movement have been protesting in cities around the world, as they demand urgent action from governments.
The protests have taken place in countries including the US, UK, Germany, Spain, Austria, France and New Zealand. Participants have glued and chained themselves to roads and vehicles, and tried to disrupt busy city centres.
Climate change protesters have tried to disrupt activity in London as they call for urgent action
"We have no choice but to rebel until our government declares a climate and ecological emergency and takes the action that is required to save us," said Australian activist Jane Morton.
Young people around the world have also been joining weekly school strikes, inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Millions last month joined a global climate strike led by schoolchildren, from handfuls of demonstrators on Pacific islands to mass rallies in cities like Melbourne, Mumbai, Berlin and New York.
"We are skipping our lessons to teach you one," one sign read.