Iraq is burning again and descending into fresh chaos. The two leading groups in Iraq's Parliament have demanded the resignation of Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi over the unrest in Basra, where violence during protests over public services have seen 12 deaths. Unlike the earlier sectarian conflicts, these protests are against the government failure to provide a decent standard of living. Iran is bound to exploit the divisions in Iraq.
Sairoon Coalition which recently won the Parliamentary elections has been seeking an apology from the government and its resignation, too. But, the government describes the unrest as a political sabotage. The protests followed the hospitalisation of 30,000 people who had drunk polluted water in Basra. An official report says that three Katyusha rockets struck the perimeter of the airport on September 8. Though none claimed responsibility for the same, hundreds of protesters in Basra stormed the Iranian consulate and set fire to it chanting 'Iran out and free Iraq" slogans.
Locals in Basra accuse Iran of interference in the riots. Iraq has been struggling to rebuild its infrastructure and economy after decades of bloody conflicts, including an eight year war with Iran in the 1980s,' the US-led invasion of 2003 and the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group which was declared to be over at the end of 2017. The real reason for the spread of the protests so far in Iraq is steeped in its history. Though it could be attributed to the politics and politicking to some extent, the protests, per se, are just the ventilation of people's anger at the increasing corruption and mismanagement in governance.
The protests are taking place in Shia-populated cities. Earlier, till last year, the protests were taking place in Sunni-dominated areas in Central Iraq where in 2014, the ISIS managed to take advantage of Bagdad's failure in accommodating marginalised Sunni communities within the governmental apparatus and established a so-called Caliphate that lasted for three years. In the absence of civil war, the people of Iraq have found an opportunity to demand that the political elite deliver on their election promises. Earlier, the rhetoric of the protests was sectarian, but today, it is for better services and jobs.
The protests are basically focused on the economic demands. Another point not to be missed here is that Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali as-Sistani supported the protests. This is a new phase of political maturity evidenced across Iraq's streets and its new non-sectarian dimension. The future Iraq, like the present one, cannot be governed without accountability or with pure impunity. The time is ripe to turn to a non-sectarian technocratic cabinet that focuses on providing welfare to Iraqi citizens and fighting corruption. In a sense, in the new Iraq, the economic concerns and people's daily financial struggles transcend tribal and sectarian fault lines. This is a great challenge but also a huge opportunity for policy-makers in the country to direct it towards a non-sectarian and non-tribal governance.