Karim Ben Mansour
The Republic of Iraq, especially the provinces of the South, are witnessing the growing of popular protests against the current economic, social and political crises, 15 years after the American invasion.
These protests remind us of the slogans raised in the Arab revolutions, in which people asked for the overthrow of the old regimes that contributed to the deterioration of the economic and social life of these countries and threatened the future of entire generations.
The protests began in the city of Basra, 560 km south of Iraq, two weeks ago to reach most of the provinces in the south and the center, such as the provinces of Dhi Qar, Babylon, Karbala, Maysan, Diwaniyah, Najaf and Nasiriyah, then to reach finally the capital Baghdad.
These protests led to the death of 11 people, the injury of 60 others and the arrest of hundreds of them, until writing this report. Moreover, the protestors reached “Majnoon” oil field east of Basra and the Kuwaiti border, closing the port of Safwan, while the internet services were cut throughout the country. In addition, both the Iraqi and Kuwaiti security forces were reinforced in the provinces of tension and at the borders.
These social movements and protests are led by the "dreamy educated" youth, who suffer from unemployment in a petroleum country torn by war, ethnicity, race and the growing of terrorism. However, it is ironical, that these protests started from Basra, which is one of the richest provinces in Iraq (producing 4 million barrels of oil per day, 90% of the total production). In addition, it is the most secure and harmonious city as it is located in the southern region far from the risk of " the ISIS terrorism" or the repercussions of the Syrian war.
However, these data did not hide that Iraq as a whole is facing severe economic, social and political crises for years, which exacerbated by the security deterioration, foreign intervention, partisan conflict and the costs of war against ISIS, making it deeper and more tragic.
The economic and social crisis
Looking at the components and characteristics of the Iraqi economy, we note that it depends heavily on oil, which prices have significantly deteriorated since 2014 with the ISIS control of some oil fields in the west and the north of the country.
The World Bank has pointed out that the Iraqi economy is experiencing a huge crisis as a result of several factors, most notably the successive wars, especially the most recent one with the ISIS, as the costs of the war amounted to $ 100 billion. This war led to the reduction of the threat of extremists after controlling “Mosul”, however, it failed to cope with the repercussions of the war on the Iraqi economy.
The World Bank said in its report on "The Iraq's economic prospects of 2018" that the poverty rate among the Iraqis rose from 18.9% in 2012 to about 22.5% in 2014, and according to the Iraqi government, poverty rates reached 35% in 2017. The latest statistics of the labor market indicate to further deterioration in poverty. In addition, the rate of the participation of youth (age 15-24) in the labor force has also declined significantly since the beginning of the crisis from 32.5% to 27.4%.
Moreover, the unemployment rate has increased, especially among the individuals of the poorest families, young people and those in their best working age (25-49 years old). In fact, the unemployment rate among young people in Iraq has reached more than 40% in 2018.
The economic promises of the Iraqi Prime Minister “Haidar Al-Ayadi” have failed as the mass of public sector salaries and state-run sectors drain about 70% of the public budget, affecting the development of the infrastructure. The decline in oil prices since 2014 has led to the government's inability to implement its plans and it has led sometimes to the non-payment of more than 6 million employees, representing about 45% of the country's labor force.
The low standards of living, the emergence of poverty rates and marginalization, the declining of the per capita income and the deterioration of the basic necessities such as electricity, water, education, health, housing, employment, unemployment and a sense of class division with the political forces who have power, authority and privilege led to the outrage of the Iraqi society, which resorted to peaceful protests, asking for their rights, which are guaranteed by the international laws and charters.
The protestors accused the "politicians" and the ruling parties of being responsible of the crisis, and they also accused them of corruption and bribery. The protestors raised the slogan "No corruption" in the protest movements as a clear sign of the absence of good governance within the political class in the country in addition to preventing the passage of laws seeking to fight this phenomenon and the prevention of illicit enrichment.
Iraq is among the five most corrupted countries in the world, “ranking 169th in the world “according to Transparency International. International reports indicate that many senior officials are involved in various corruption operations, which led some of them flee abroad for fear of prosecution.
The international organization stated that the political parties in Iraq are the most corrupted institutions in the country, followed by the parliament, the judiciary and the military establishment, according to the Global Corruption Index.
The Lebanese authorities have recently handed over the former Iraqi Minister of Trade “Abdul Fallah Al-Sudani”, who was accused of embezzling the public money to Baghdad, which represents a clear sign that corruption in Iraq has become unbearable and that it is among one of the reasons that led the Iraqi people to protest to stop the deterioration of the social and economic life in Iraq.
The Integrity Commission said in its report in 2016 that more than one thousand billion dollars (one trillion dollars) has entered the resources of the Iraqi state since 2003, at a time when the basic services fell to be lower than the siege period, while reports pointed out that there were more than six thousand fictitious contracts in Iraq, through which tens of billion dollars were stolen.
This economic and social deterioration and the spread of financial corruption in Iraq is the natural result of the political crisis and the proliferation of armed militias belonging to a number of political parties associated with most of the neighboring countries.
The political crisis and the responsibility of political parties
Iraq has witnessed recently a huge political crisis that ended with the "scandal of rigging the legislative elections”. In fact, the parliamentary fact-finding committee in Iraq said that 3 million cards were forged during the parliamentary elections held on last 12 May.
Some political parties were accused of this forgery, which has led the government to re-count "manually" the election results, amid fears that Iraq would become a battleground between the political parties, which are in reality loyal to foreign countries, aiming to reach high positions at the expense of Iraq.
Perhaps the exit of thousands of protesters in front of the headquarters of the parties and the raid of some of them as it happened with the attempt to raid the headquarters of Badr Organization( a pro-Iranian organization in Qadisiyah) , which resulted in the death of a protestor, in addition to the burning of a number of the headquarters of “Hezbollah” is an evidence of the Iraqi people’s accusation of the sectarian parties responsible for the political crisis in the country and their economic and social repercussions.
Despite the attempts of the Iraqi Prime Minister “Haider Al-Abbadi” to intimidate the protesters or make promises to fulfill their demands, the demonstrators always accuse the Iraqi authorities and parties loyal to them of causing this state of despair and frustration that gripped the Iraqis in Basra. For instance, the protestors shouted "The people want to overthrow the political parties" in a slogan similar to that of the Arab revolutions in 2011.
Some political movements such as the Sadrist movement, in addition to the religious authorities led by “Ali Sistani”, wanted to keep up with the protest and stipulated that it should not resort to violence against the state apparatus in order to support them.
Patrick Coburn summed up the political crisis of Iraq in an article in the British Independent newspaper, where he said that the popular anger against the political class that came to power in 2003 explained the progress of the “Saeron” coalition, which calls for the political and social reform in the parliamentary elections and carried the slogan "building a civil state: the state of citizenship and social justice."
Coburn pointed out that the low voting rate in the elections (44.5%) confirms the conviction of a large segment of Iraqis that nothing will change no matter how the next government of the country will be, a country that produces 4.3 million barrels of oil per day.
The recent protest movements in Iraq turned everything upside down, including the political parties, which are backed by some neighboring countries, where the Iraqi youth decided to take the initiative themselves to face their problems and change their future peacefully through protest and asking for their rights which are guaranteed by the international laws and charters.