For Iraqi protesters, PM’s resignation is ‘a drop in the ocean’

More than 420 people, mainly demonstrators, have been killed since anti-government protests began October 1.
Sunday 08/12/2019
Anti-government protesters gather in Tahrir Square during protests in Baghdad. (AP)
Unabated wrath. Anti-government protesters gather in Tahrir Square during protests in Baghdad. (AP)

BASRA - For Iraqi protesters, the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi is just the first in a long list of demands. That’s why they continue to take to the streets.

More than 420 people, mainly demonstrators, have been killed since anti-government protests began October 1. More than 15,000 have been injured.

The public outrage at scenes of bloodshed and the number of fatalities among predominantly peaceful protesters within just two months prompted top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to suggest November 29 that the prime minister should step down.

Responding to Sistani’s call on the same day, Abdul-Mahdi announced that he would submit his resignation. Parliament accepted it December 1 but Abdul-Mahdi is to remain, caretaker prime minister, until a new government is formed.

“His [Abdul-Mahdi’s] resignation is not our main goal. His resignation will not end the corruption. It is just a drop in the ocean among all what we seek. I hope all other politicians do what Abdul-Mahdi did,” said Faris Harram, a resident in Najaf.

“We will keep protesting against any country that plans to destroy our homeland, including Iran. The protesters’ torching of the Iranian consulate for a third time was a message to show their objection to Iranian presence.”

Sinan Salaheddin Mahmoud, a journalist, said protesters refused to go home because they feel their aspirations have not been met.

“Iraqis know that Abdul-Mahdi does not represent all the political class and they are demanding a change to the whole system, not just the prime minister,” said Mahmoud. “The alternative person who will replace Abdul-Mahdi might be from the same class of current politicians. The new prime minister might be suggested by [the] same ruling parties.”

Mahmoud said the killing of hundreds of protesters by security forces was the reason behind Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation. Protesters are calling for the prime minister to be held accountable for the deaths.

“We demand a trial for Abdul-Mahdi because he [is] accused of being responsible for the killing of the protesters,” said Hussam Mohammed, a resident in Basra. “Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation came late, after the bloodshed across Iraq.”

Mohammed said Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation on its own will not solve Iraq’s problems. “The next prime minister must come from a secular background and must work for the interest of Iraq, not for other countries — and especially not for Iran,” he said.

One of the key demands of protesters is electoral reform.

“We demand changing the electoral law and replacing the current electoral commission with a more independent body. We call for cancelling the parliamentarians’ retirement law and want early elections,” said Ali Al-Salami, an activist in Basra.

“The new government that we want should be far away from muhasasa (the current Iraqi political system) and not based on sectarianism,” he added.

Hamzeh Hadad, a political analyst in Baghdad, warned that forming a new government does not guarantee an end to demonstrations.

“There is a strong possibility that there will be a new wave of protests if forming a new government stalls, like we have seen in the past, or if the new government is similar to previous governments,” said Hadad.

Hadad said it would be difficult to have a new government that is reflective of the protesters’ demands if the demonstrators themselves don’t have a clear leadership that can submit their unified demands to parliament.

Sarkawt Shamsulddin, a member of the Future bloc in the Iraqi parliament, warned against leaving a political vacuum in the country.

“I do not think Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation is enough but it was the beginning for protesters,” said Shamsulddin. “The electoral reforms will need to be passed soon and possibly call for snap elections by the end of next year.

“Those who were behind Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation were not ready to provide an alternative and leaving the PM position vacant may lead to more bloodshed if we do not fill it quickly.”