Why the Iraqi protests are more important than ever

The world held its breath for the better part of a week while anticipating a war between Iran and the US. The media’s attention to that crisis overshadowed Iraqi protests, now in their fourth month.

Protestor demands are intensifying

Today, 10/1/2020, marks the inversed date of the start of the demonstrations (1/10/2019). Iraqi protestors gathered together today in various Iraqi cities, voicing their concerns and marking the date.

Their demands are the same as they were at the start. Protestors want a functioning, democratically-elected government, more job security, and transparency in state institutions. However, their anti-American and anti-Irani chants seem also to have intensified.

Concerns over possible war are overshadowing protests

The US assassination of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis has forced Iraq to prepare for a proxy war.

The nation is now caught between two of its closest allies.

Initially, US troops were stationed in Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers in their fight against the Islamic State. The troops have been critical in keeping IS fighters at a distance.

Iraqi and Iranian security forces are also great allies in the fight against the Islamic State. The two countries are both majority Shiite, which undoubtedly strengthens their relationship. Additionally, the neighbouring states share much of the same values.

Semi-official Iranian state media falsely reported that the bombing of two coalition bases in Iraq left 80 US soldiers dead. However, several sources confirmed there were no lives lost in what seemed to be a symbolic targeting of military bases.

In the midst of the crisis, a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed shortly after take-off from the International Airport in Tehran. The incident resulted in the deaths of all 176 passengers and crew on board, many of whom were Iranian citizens. The timing caused speculation about it having been a possible terrorist attack.  It has since been determined (and admitted by Iran) that Iran shot down the plane by mistake. 

The crisis has greatly affected Iraq. The protestors are now demanding a complete withdrawal of US troops and are criticising Iranian interference in the country.

The shared enemy

The question remains as to what outcome will best serve Iraqi interests.

ISIS issued a statement today saying the assassination of Qasem Soleimani was an “act of divine intervention”. Soleimani was a major force in the fight against them.

In light of US/Iran tensions, Denmark, Germany and the US suspended trainings and operations in Iraq. The troops have trained Iraqi soldiers in their mutual fight against ISIS. Meanwhile, Iraq’s prime minister called for US troops to withdraw from the sovereign country. Today, the US State Department rejected the possibility of sending a delegation to discuss the safe withdrawal of approximately 5,000 US soldiers who are stationed there. The US says the troops will remain in the country to maintain peace in the Middle East. 

The halt in military efforts and trainings is beneficial to IS militia. The Sunni extremist group is known for taking advantage of instability and chaos. 

Despite US/Iran tensions, US troops remaining in Iraq is favourable to Shiite majority Iran because they hinder a complete Sunni takeover of Iraq. History has shown that it is best to unite through a shared enemy in order to maintain stability.

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