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.
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.
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.