Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Resignation Of Iraq’s Prime Minister: Another Democratic False Dawn?

The Organization for World Peace issued the following:

The 29th of November marked another chapter in Iraq’s turbulent political development as Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi resigned from his office. Being entrenched in post-Hussein Iraqi Politics, Mahdi’s resignation represents a significant shift in government attitudes to democracy after a period of continuous protests from October 2019. These protests have become increasingly violent with the Iraqi security forces inflicting an estimated 354 deaths and 8,104 injuries upon protestors according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The majority of protestors are rallying against corruption and Iranian influence in the Iraqi Government, which is seen by many, particularly Iraqi youth, as hampering the nation’s development. While these protesters have welcomed Mahdi’s resignation, there is also great concern over what comes next.

Arguably, Mahdi’s resignation was a consequence of ‘Iraq’s Kingmaker’ Ali al-Sistani’s criticism of his government’s denial of the Iraqi peoples’ “right to reform”. With significance influence over Iraq’s 70% Shia population, the 89-year-old Shia cleric’s criticisms of the Government on the 29th of November appeared to have been the final straw of Mahdi’s prime ministership.   Abiding by the cleric’s call, Mahdi, in his short resignation speech declared that “the resignation of the government is a method of [a] peaceful handover of power in democratic systems.” Despite Mahdi’s actions symbolically embodying the protestors’ democratic desires, the Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, demanded further action and strategies to protect protestors from government and non-government brutality to end the “atrocities against the people of Iraq” starting with transparency and cooperation.

These calls for further reform were tragically echoed a week later on the 7th of December when Iraq witnessed a gunman killing at least 20 protestors in Baghdad according to the BBC. While the gunman is yet to be identified, Western and Local news authorities, including the BBC, have linked the attack with Iraq’s growing hive of gangs and corruption. Here, the bittersweet nature of Mahdi’s resignation comes to light. While resignation provides a unique embodiment of democracy in Iraq’s history of authoritarian governance, it is unclear whether Mahdi is another government scapegoat or the beginning of a new era of democratic reform. Crucially, Iraq needs the latter.

Iraq’s predominately youth-centric protests represent a new generation demanding control of their nation’s destiny. Despite Sistani’s words being a key driver of the resignation, his statement overshadows Iraq’s youthful uprising. With a median national age of just 20 years, Iraq’s youth are maturing into a strong political force who appear willing to challenge the government over its failures. Indeed, a youth unemployment rate of 16.56%, according to the International Labour Organization, and 3.2 million school-aged Iraqis out of the education system as estimated by UNICEF, Iraq’s youth are suffering a deficiency of socio-economic opportunities while politicians like Mahdi flourish.

With no signs of surrender, Iraq’s youthful protestors continued to demand reform with the hope that Mahdi’s resignation is a sign of things to come in their crusade for change. While Iraqi security forces have promised patience, the actions of the 7th of December show that words alone will not be enough to end the suffering of Iraq’s youth. With protestors showing no sign of slowing down, the risk of further instability and casualties remains at large. Now, the Iraqi government has the opportunity to transform Mahdi’s resignation with real action to create it into a watershed moment of Iraqi democracy instead of another democratic false dawn.