When Haider al-Abadi’s Victory Alliance was defeated at the Iraqi Parliamentary election earlier this year by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shi’ite Coalition, some believed that popular support for an outsider party would lead to a more stable Iraq.
On the contrary, however, it appears that May’s populist vote has backfired spectacularly as protests against foreign interference in Iraq have broken out across the country.
The border between Iraq and Kuwait has been manned by activists, protestors have stormed Najaf airport and set fire to the base of a Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, and key roads to southern oil fields have been blockaded.
Things were mean to be different for the embattled nation. After liberating Mosul from Islamic State forces, al-Abadi had sought to capitalise on the success; transferring military victory to success at the ballot boxes.
But it was not meant to be. Placing first and second at the election were a combination of Shi’ite militia groups, backed by Iran, and communists. These are the groups that have been put in charge of managing the billions pledged to Iraq to support the restabilising of the country.
Iraq’s neighbours, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, pledged $80 billion to the Government to aid in getting the country back on its feet, while the United States gave over $1 billion to support a new Iraqi military and to kickstart development programmes. This money, however, has not reached the homes of regular citizens.
Instead, a government has yet to be formed and ISIS attacks have increased. When the first protestors took to the streets, campaigning against what they saw as foreign meddling and economic stagnation, they were fired upon by the police.
Since then, protests have sprung up across the nation and the Iraqi leadership has adopted the Iranian crowd control tactic of severing the population’s access to the internet and social media.
When the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, a US-designated terrorist, arrived in the country with members of the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah, it did nothing but heighten tensions.
The Iraqi people, not without good reason, are concerned that their leadership is wasting time and money supporting the same causes as their supporters in Tehran. The more time they spend rubbing elbows with groups like Hezbollah, the more likely it becomes that the Iraqi Government is perceived as nothing more than yet another Iranian regional proxy.
The question that remains is how the Government will handle this popular uprising. Iran’s state media has already starting referring to the activists as “infiltrators”. Will the activists be listened to, their concerns addressed? Or will they, like so many of Iran’s opponents over the years, be buried along with their grievances.