Anti-Corruption Protests Continue to Stir Iraq

There is a lot of commotion happening these days but it’s far from the front lines of the conflict against ISIL. While the Iraqi military has tried to cobble together a renewed strategy to oust ISIL elements from cities in Anbar such as Baiji and Ramadi, there is a rumble in the streets and it’s not from explosions or military operations.

In cities across Iraq, from Najaf in the South to the capital Baghdad, thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets to voice their resentment toward an ineffective and increasingly incompetent government. Currently, the most pressing concern for Iraqis is the dismal administration of public services and there is a growing sentiment that the Iraqi government is not doing enough to meet the needs of the average citizen.

Iraqis were initially propelled into the streets after electricity shortages left them vulnerable to the searing Iraqi heat. The blackouts have become symptomatic of a government that appears to be increasingly unable to provide for its people.

Recently, Iraq’s Electricity Minister Qassem al-Fahdawi outlined the country’s electricity problems to parliament. One of the biggest problems is that the current infrastructure cannot meet the demand. This summer Iraqis were using up to 21,000 megawatts even though the output only reached 13,400.

A long term strategy to renew and strengthen the energy grid needs to be undertaken by the government if there is any hope to strengthen a weak Iraqi economy. So far, it seems like the government has only come up with quick fixes, leaving many Iraqis feeling the heat.

In a way, all of the grievances that the protesters have are interconnected. The electricity outages force businesses to close, or spend money on back-up generators, which then effects the ability for people to have consistent employment.

The demonstrations have grown to encompass a variety of concerns ranging from electricity and corruption to unemployment and government reform.

The World Bank estimates that youth unemployment (age 15-24) sits at a lofty 34 percent. This is a crucial segment of society because 41 percent of the population is under 15 years old and 50 percent is under 19 years old. This generation will soon be entering the work force. As it stands the Iraqi government employs 40% of allworkers.

Often times it is necessary to bribe government officials to receive basic services thereby perpetuating a cycle of corruption and handouts. As one police officer said to the The New York Times, “people are finally starting to express their opinions…the people are tired. Lack of services. Corruption. Electricity. The government is fragile.â€

In the Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 published by Transparency International, Iraq was judged to have the fifth highest perception of corruption in the world. The corrupt practices are a way of life for many Iraqis yet even by their standards it appears it is time for reform.

“The extreme level of corruption in the government has even rendered it unable to provide basic public services…Moreover, Iraq will be unable to undertake broad based, sustainable economic development until the government initiates a serious anti-corruption drive,†PAFI President Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari declared on the recent issues.

In mid-August Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a series of reforms aimed at quelling some of the unrest directed at his government. The reforms, which range from restructuring ministries, to cutting the offices of the three vice-presidents, and ending government employment quotas based on sect, have been accepted by the parliament yet based on past pronouncements skepticism remains strong.

Even though al-Abadi has taken some steps to show a response from the government, the country continues to be burdened by unnecessary levels of bureaucracy which have now become an integral part of Iraqi life.