With popular uprisings sweeping across the Middle East in recent weeks, Iraq too has seen its share of protests, but the focus here is different. Rather than trying to bring down the (elected) government, the people are expressing their anger at problems such as unemployment, sub-standard public services, scarcity of food, and the corruption and cronyism at the heart of the problem.
It has surprised many that Sulaimaniyah, with its relatively good public services, has been the main hotspot for demonstrations, but protesters here allege that the PUK and KDP have a strangle-hold on the economy.
Government action, such as cutting ministerial salaries and deferring the purchase of F-16 fighters in order to buy food, has not been enough to quell the anger. A ‘day of rage’ has been planned for tomorrow (Friday), with a major protest expected in Baghdad.
But perhaps most surprising of all is the apparent U-turn from Shia-ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, reportedly returned again to Najaf, who has called for this day of protest to be deferred for six months to give the government a chance to implement reforms. While only representing one section of the population, his call is likely to take some of the steam out of the situation.