Ongoing protests have now entered their sixth week, as Iraqis continue to demonstrate against the government, lack of jobs and services, and corruption. The death toll in the protests has risen to over 300, with an additional 15,000 injureds. Most of the protesters have been killed by security officials who are part of the fragmented security system, and factions of the paramilitary forces, Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces-PMF), which is backed by the Iranian government. The PMF has executed significant force against the protesters and shows no signs of rescinding, which could lead to further rebellion and increasing levels of violence from both the protesters and the security forces. President Barham Salih has joined the demonstrations and is in full support of the protester’s requests for governmental change.
The difficulties surrounding regime change in Iraq, in the form of complete government reform, lie within the challenges of Parliamentary reform and the already fragile system in place, which Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi rose from last year. However, while the protesters are calling for a government overhaul, the inability for both protesters and the government to come up with viable options, or a “roadmap”, on how the government should proceed, creates a significant barrier to ending the violent protests. The government overhaul has many implications, a majority of which have been rejected by Iraqi officials and denounced by the pro-Iranian bureaucrats in the country.
Iranian influence in Iraq over the past 16 years is apparent in many political and security institutions throughout the country. The likelihood that Iran will relinquish this control to meet the demands of the protesters is low. The protesters are demanding a complete government overhaul from the system that was established following the 2003 US-led invasion, yet these sentiments have not been well received by many Iranian-aligned elites. Iranian back forces are perpetrating violence against the protesters, who have only grown more angry with the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. Anti-Iranian sentiments can be heard throughout the country as people on the streets yell “Corruption! Out with Iran!”. Calls for early elections and government reform have not been well received by the Iraqi government or the pro-Iranian officials. These elections are unlikely to take place, as Abdul-Mahdi’s office made a statement on the 13th of November, indefinitely suspending the elections that were scheduled to take place in April 2020. There is strong sentiments from the protesters against the Iranian involvement in Iraqi politics, but many also view any foreign intervention as problematic to the country’s future.