The protests against unemployment, corruption and lack of services that rocked Iraq last week have calmed down following numerous reform promises by the Prime Minister. However, many observers believe this is not the end of the protests, given the country's history of broken reform promises.
After a week of violent protests across Iraq, the country appears to have calmed down, with many demonstrators standing down. The calm was partially achieved after Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, announced a reform package aimed at tackling corruption, unemployment and lack of services, all of which were the issues at the forefront of the protests. However, although things have calmed down compared to last week, there is an anticipation that a new wave of protest movement can hit the country at any second, especially if the underlying grievances that led to the protests are not resolved.
Furthermore, a number of new grievances have emerged since the start of the protest movement. Chief among them is the violent response by some security forces against the protesters. Officially, 104 people were killed during the protests across Iraq, most of whom as a result of gunfire from various security forces. Furthermore, the assassinations of two Basra-based activists shortly after returning from demonstrations have sparked concerns that militias may be targeting protest leaders and personalities in a bid to quell protests.
For his part, Abd al-Mahdi has sought to avoid inflaming the protests any further. In his speech on Thursday, Abd al-Mahdi avoided accusing any side of intensifying the violence in Iraq. He, and many other members of the Iraqi Government, had already acknowledged that the protesters had legitimate concerns. Such conciliatory tone may have helped quell the protests whereas the violent response actually increased the intensity of the protests.
While the reform package is a promising start, Abd al-Mahdi’s Government will face an uphill battle implementing them due to institutional lack of capacity, general corruption across the system and an unstable economic situation. Furthermore, many protesters feel cautious about empty promises and may return to the streets if they feel no changes or improvements have been implemented. This was highlighted particularly well from activists in Basra which was already wracked by similar protests last year. Alaa al-Basri, the Head of Social Peace Gathering, and Mohammed al-Danboos, the Secretary General of Southern Tribes Leadership, both emphasised that the Government of Iraq needs to fulfil the needs of the people. Otherwise, all efforts to reduce tensions will be temporary. Al-Basri, meanwhile, emphasised that this is Abd al-Mahdi’s last chance.