GP Insights # 160, 5 October 2019
On 1 October 2019, protests began against unemployment, corruption, and lack of public facilities. Although it started in Bagdad, it gained momentum and has spread across other cities. Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq's Prime Minister, imposed a curfew. On 4 October 2019, the curfew was lifted in Baghdad.
As of now, the protest seems to be leaderless, mostly comprising of young people.
Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the coalition (that won the largest number of seats in 2018 elections), is pressurizing the one-year-old government to resign. He has asked the legislators to suspend their parliamentary membership and boycott sessions until the government responds to the protesters' demands.
The protestors have also gained support from other leaders including the Speaker of the Parliament and Iraq's Shia Cleric head.
What is the background?
The 2019 protest against corruption and unemployment is not new. Since 2015, there have been protests on these issues. In 2014, the election resulted in a fractured and unstable government. Since 2015, there have been protests led by the youths. When Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi came to power in 2018, he inherited an unstable government. He could not stabilize it.
According to the IMF, Iraq has the world's fourth-largest reserves of oil; still, majority lives in poverty. War against the ISIS has affected Iraq's economy. Besides, Iraq also has not recovered from decades of conflict earlier, the US invasion and economic sanctions from the United Nations. The economic failure and weak governments have been catastrophic for Iraq, especially its youth.
Lack of employment, healthcare, schooling, water and power supplies have resulted in widespread anger against the government.
What does this mean?
The curfew, initially imposed by Mehdi, has further angered the protestors and masses than addressing the issue. The curfew affected food, medicines and health care. The lifting of the curfew might give some respite to the crisis.
Second, the protest might lead to a political crisis. Sadr's demand for the resignation of the government highlights this. The crisis could further fragment the national politics. In case Mehdi's government falls, the situation in Iraq will only worsen.
Third, the protests could also lead to the rise of other rebel groups and leaders.
Fourth, the protests would destabilize the economy further. Iraq's dollar- fell 1.2 cents to a four-month low. Even the bonds have tumbled more than two cents since the start of the week.