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On Friday in the capital city of Iraq, Baghdad, security forces opened direct fire on protesters. The protesters had been gathered for their fourth day of demonstrations to protest Iraqi leadership’s corruption and neglect. The death toll has yet to be announced from Baghdad, but at least 44 people have died because of the Iraqi security forces’ crackdown across Iraq since the protest began on Tuesday. This comes amidst televised promises made by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul-Bahdi, that the protesters’ concerns were being acknowledged. According to The Guardian, he told his people, “We [him and other government members] do not live in ivory towers – we walk among you in the streets of Baghdad.” However, his attempt to soothe the protests appeared to have fallen flat, as he has not met demonstrators’ demands.
The dissatisfaction from the Iraqi people is clearly seen in a quote by a male protester at the scene, as given by Reuters: “They are shooting live fire at the Iraqi people and the revolutionaries. …. You [Abdul-Mahdi] better resign. Resign. The people demand the fall of the regime!” The situation undeniable echoes the sentiment that brought about the Arab Spring.
The anti-government unrest in Iraq has not occurred in a vacuum. Despite Iraq’s extremely successful oil production – the country hosts the fourth-largest reserves in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund – much of the population struggles with poverty. A majority of the people are without decent healthcare, education, power and water supply. Years of war and sanctions imposed on Iraq has left a gutted infrastructure with ruined cities, leaving little opportunities for Iraqis to better themselves or find employment. The people feel as if their government, because of corruption, have prevented the nation’s recovery. Iraq’s corruption perception index in 2018 was 168 out of 180, according to Transparency International, which expresses the distrust the Iraqi people have towards their government. The Iraqi people are frustrated and demanding change. Another protester told the Post, “This is an uprising from people who suffer. It represents them and only them. I hope this can reform a broken system.”
Iraq, like several other Middle Eastern countries, has a history of internal strife and external meddling by outside forces that have brought about the current situation of corruption and discontent. It is little surprise, therefore, that the Iraqis have come to protest against the longevity of the unrest and insecurity in their homeland, desiring a change. How can this change be brought about? To answer this question, one must consider how corruption – the largest complaint made by the protesters – can be done away with. Transparency International provides a five part solution on how to end corruption. They believe that in order for a country overcome its corruption, it needs to end impunity across all levels of the government system so that officials in power are made accountable, reform public administration and finance management to stop the lining of pockets, promote transparency and access to information to its people and the outside world, empower citizens to hold the government accountable through mutual trust, and close loopholes in the international financial systems that allows for laundering. These five suggestions might work for the situation in Iraq, or at least provide a basis to start from.
What is essential is that the Iraqi people come to feel heard, and the government respond to their demands with open-mindedness and responsibility. If the Iraqi government does not, the situation will only continue to decline. Shooting live bullets at protesters does not do anything to lessen public discontent. Instead, a government should behave in a way that protects and represents the desires of the people.