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Is It Even Possible to Change the Regime in Iraq?

Is It Even Possible to Change the Regime in Iraq?

Thursday, 7 November, 2019 - 14:00
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

The Middle East has indeed been shaken by revolutions of late, but no new regimes have risen to power in any of the affected states.

Leaders left and governments fell, but the regimes remained strong in Egypt, Tunisia, and Sudan. In Libya and Yemen, state institutions completely collapsed, and so far both countries are still without alternative systems and affective states.

In the past few weeks, the world has watched the protests in Iraq with some surprise because they were not expected to be so robust and sustained in so many cities, and with such huge numbers of people involved. Even though telephone lines and the internet were blocked, and notwithstanding a media counter-campaign and premeditated murders, the protests have continued.

Despite the protesters’ efforts, they are unlikely to topple the regime. The protesting masses can force the government to resign and change some political decisions.

Still, even if the demonstrators fail to overthrow the Iraqi regime, they have already brought down the “halo” of the religious leadership and the prestige of state institutions and humiliated the representative “symbols” of Iran’s influence. Also, the unrest has united the demands and the regions. Today, the protesters occupy squares and block roads, and troops close the bridges to prevent them from advancing on government buildings. So they gather, instead, at oil refineries and the country’s only port, Umm Qasr.

They want to access sensitive state facilities, but will not be allowed to do so as the regime has enough weapons to ensure its survival at all costs, with the Iranian regime in support. The latter has been present, through its leadership and militias, since the beginning of the popular uprising, participating in the repression and killings, and even directing the Iraqi security services.

That is why protesters went to the Iranian consulate and tried to burn it. They did so because they believe that those who participated in the shootings were Iranian functionaries.

Even though they have targeted oil facilities and the port of Umm Qasr, I do not think the demonstrators embrace the idea of toppling the entire state system of governance, because that idea is dangerous and almost impossible. However, if the government continues to ignore the demands of the protesters and the killings escalate, their demands could change to include the overthrow of the whole regime, which is not currently on the table.

In the eyes of the protesters, the government seems powerless and not in control of its security services or of the armed militias that receive their salaries from the Iraqi government but take their orders from Iran.

As Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has said, the resignation of the government is the easiest thing to promise protesters because it can do nothing else to satisfy them. The overthrow of the government is simple, but the alternative is no better. Parliament could be given more power, but it is worse than the government because the militias and corruption are also present within its ranks.

Well, what about handing power to regulatory bodies, such as the Commission of Integrity or the Supreme Anti-Corruption Council? These, too, have emerged from the same state institutions that are viewed with suspicion and distrust.

The commission has accused the former head of the main branch of Rasheed Bank of involvement in the disappearance of 13 billion Iraqi dinars ($10 million), but he has not explained what happened to the money. Meanwhile, the start of the protests coincided with the announcement by the council of the dismissal of 1,000 government employees over their involvement in corruption. Even these measures were not convincing enough to appease or silence the protesters.

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