Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets on Thursday, October 1, to mark the anniversary of last year’s anti-government protests. The protesters reiterated their demand of putting an end to widespread political and economic corruption, better employment opportunities and reforms in the country’s political system.
The protesters vowed to revive the protests which had gone on for months before they were stopped due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent imposition of lockdowns. They also denounced the massive state repression, including the killing of over 600 of the protesters by the security forces in those protests. Thursday’s protests were held in several southern cities in Iraq, including the capital Baghdad, Basra and Najaf.
Protesters carried portraits of all the people who were killed or went missing during the protests. They demanded punishment for all those responsible for the killings and freedom and safety to protest.
Last year’s protests forced the government, led by prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, to resign. After months of political uncertainty, his successor, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, was appointed in May this year. Kadhimi promised investigation into the deaths of protesters and strong action against corruption. His government also announced early elections for the Iraqi parliament in June next year. The last elections were held in 2018.
Protesters have also been demanding an end to the political quota or muhasasa system in Iraq which is seen as the root cause of nepotism and corruption in the country. The muhasasa guarantees a proportional representation of all major ethnic groups in the country and fixes crucial government posts according to the sects. For instance, as per the Iraqi constitution, the prime minister of the country can only be a Shia, president a Kurd and speaker of the parliament a Sunni. The system was introduced in the country by the America-led occupation administration post the 2003 invasion.
Protesters are also demanding effective measures to end the widespread unemployment among the educated youth in the country. The oil-rich country has also seen a steady rise in poverty in the past few years which has surprised many. Protesters blame successive governments in Iraq for failing to deliver essential services to most of the people as well.
The protesters also opposed all kinds of foreign interventions in the country. Some protesters issued an ultimatum to the government to take effective measures by 25 October or be ready to face a national strike.
Expressing its support and solidarity with the protesters, the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party issued a statement on September 26. The party paid tributes to the martyrs of the October uprising. The party “renews its complete bias towards our people and the uprisers and their just demands, and stands with them in support, in order to defeat the quota system and corruption” and supports the desire of the protestors to bring about the change.