Electoral competition is the next stage for Iraq’s protest movement

The leaders of the popular movement reach understandings with Kadhimi to run on one electoral list.

Thursday 29/10/2020
Iraqi demonstrators in Baghdad carry pictures of demonstrators killed during anti-government protests, October 28. (REUTERS)
Iraqi demonstrators in Baghdad carry pictures of demonstrators killed during anti-government protests, October 28. (REUTERS)

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi authorities have reopened the Saadoun Street tunnel, which runs under Tahrir Square, the iconic location of the Iraqi protest movement that began about a year ago. The move heralded the end of a very distinct period in the country’s modern history, a period that has seen the largest wave of demonstrations that the country has ever experienced.

Although Tahrir Square itself remained closed to vehicle traffic up to the time of filing this report, the opening of the Saadoun Tunnel is nevertheless an indication of the possibility of the rapid disappearance of what remains of the group protests and some of the sit-in tents.

The end of this extraordinary period was not surprising, especially when it had led to the complete overthrow of a government and its replacement with another one with rather unusual characteristics never seen before in the Iraqi political process.

The first anniversary of the October uprising in Iraq, this past October 25, could have been an occasion to renew the popular movement against the political class accused of corruption, mismanagement and embezzlement of public money. Instead, it turned into a question mark regarding the usefulness of the demonstrations, since the influential political parties have been able to safeguard their interests and sources of power.

The “October Revolution” has lost about 700 martyrs, and about 20 thousand other victims were injured in its events, without being able to achieve all of its goals.

In this first anniversary, everybody was talking about the gains achieved and measuring them against the sacrifices made. Many activists began questioning the worthiness of continuing the protests at such an exorbitant price.

Many voices, however, pointed out that the October movement was a mere gateway in the process of change in Iraq, and that it must continue, but perhaps in a different form. The next step in the movement is to translate the demonstrations into concrete political actions and take advantage of their tremendous popular momentum during the upcoming elections.

An Iraqi demonstrator walks past riot police in the capital Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on October 28. (AFP)
An Iraqi demonstrator walks past riot police in the capital Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on October 28. (AFP)

Abdul Rahman al-Jabouri—a prominent activist in the October demonstrations and a personal friend to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi—believes that the October protesters “have restored the nation’s unity and sense of patriotism, and laid down the rules and foundations for building a capable state.”

Commenting on the symbolism of the end of the protests in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, al-Jabouri said, “The first stage has been completed … a distinguished year of struggle and creativity, and now begins the stage of the great advance on the state and of the political employment of the revolution.” He called for “recapturing the parliament through free and fair elections that pave the way for an executive that contributes to the making of an able state.”

Various sources in Baghdad said that many of the leaders of the popular movement in the Iraqi capital have reached understandings with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to run for parliament in the next legislative elections on one joint list.

Observers believe that transforming the momentum of the October Revolution in Iraq into a voting bloc during the upcoming elections may lead to overturning the ruling political equation, which gives Iranian-backed militias and political Islam parties most of the pie.

Sources said that the scenario of reaching these understandings with Kadhimi in Baghdad was being reproduced in Nasiriyah in the south of the country, another important stronghold of the protest movement in the country.

Iraqi writer Farouk Youssef ruled out the possibility that Tahrir Square would lose its symbolism. It has become the square of all Iraqis from all sects. It is the convergence point of Baghdad’s major avenues and has become a meeting place for the joys through which the Iraqis were seeking to forget the causes of their grief.

Youssef told The Arab Weekly, “the Freedom Monument has endowed the square with a measure of prestige that one does not find in any other square; and just like the monument has given it a distinctive architectural quality, the square gave Iraqis a measure of optimism and hope.”

“The avenues flow into the square like rivers, and upon arriving in the square, Iraqis, regardless of their final destinations, stop to contemplate the idea of ​​their presence and their power,” Youssef added. He pointed out that “the square was not originally designed for mass events and yet it was large enough for the demonstrations and had welcomed tens of thousands of angry youth. It was wider than its physical dimensions. It was the dimensions of rebellion and freedom that allowed this square to accommodate more people than could be imagined. Tahrir Square resides in the imagination of its freedom.”