The countdown has begun as to the end of the premiership of Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Sworn in a month ago in early May, the challenges he has and continues to face appear too much for his government to handle. The outlook of the man who rose to prominence while never serving in politics until his appointed role as Head of National Security by Haider al-Abadi is beginning to come to light. When Mustafa al-Kadhimi became Prime Minister, an array of crippling issues were immediately placed on his plate; the Covid-19 pandemic, Iran-US and Iraq-US relations, the country’s failing economic situation and most importantly, the national protest movement which swept throughout Iraq since October 2019, leading to the resignation of the previous Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
As he was sworn into the most senior governmental role, he vowed to fight the rampant corruption eating away into Iraq’s economy, neglecting people of the most basic standards of living, namely access to clean water and electricity, the contracts of which have facilitated such corruption. Yet his attempt to win over popular support through his demagogue-like facade with promises and vows has broken down with the sudden resurrection of the protest movement again. Despite the government-implemented curfew to prevent the spread of Covid-19, people have taken to the streets across the country to protest against Kadhimi’s handling of the overall situation and his inability and unwillingness to meet their demands.
Since the beginning of the October protests last year, over 700 people have been killed by security forces with many imprisoned. While al-Kadhimi initially ordered the courts to release all protesters who were not convicted of any other charges, which the majority are convicted for, no one has, as of yet been set free, and no further action has been taken. Additionally, a recent UN report on the event uncovered the abductions and torture of dozens of protesters by militias and armed gangs. The Prime Minister claimed he would protect them which was seen at first with 1 the raid on the Thar Allah headquarters in Basra where a 20 year old demonstrator was killed by suspected members of the militia however, only a week later, members returned as if nothing had happened, utterly undermining his power.
In conjunction with 2 this, a video appeared to show al-Kadhimi prolifically praising militias for their work against ISIS, the same ones which had been accused of attacking protesters. Another two causes of the demonstrations was the extraordinarily high levels of unemployment and poverty. According to the New Arab, 25% of Iraq’s youth are unemployed, double the national average and an increase from 16.52% in 2019. They further state that 34 $450 billion of public funds has disappeared since 2004. If this money was recuperated, the Iraqi government, as the country’s largest employer, would have enough to pay the monthly wages of “more than four million employees, retirees and beneficiaries, as well as cover the expenses of the efforts against the coronavirus and food relief for low-income families” for almost eight years. This is a major factor of public distrust in 5 the government as seen with a wide-scale opinion poll across Iraq in early 2019 that found that “82% of Iraqis were concerned or very concerned about corruption at the highest levels of government; 83% perceived corruption to be getting worse.”
Mustafa 6 al-Kadhimi’s empty promises to address these issues has led to a further breakdown in public trust. New protests in major cities have accused the Prime Minister of delaying much needed social and political reform and innaction in meeting their demands. According to The New Arab, one demonstrator in Nasiriyah stated that “The government’s disregard for the protesters’ demands is now clear and there is no need to give them any new chances. Protesters have no choice but to take to the squares of cities again.” An organiser in Najaf claimed “The government and the prime minister know very well who the militias who assaulted, kidnapped, and killed protesters are. Not revealing their names and not exposing and punishing them means that it is complicit with them.” Members of the movement have begun preparations for a new wave of 7 protests with constructions to accommodate people in places such as Haboubi Square, an area which saw the funeral of the prominent human rights activist Azhar Al-Shammari murdered by gunmen outside his home last month, attended by thousands.
Simultaneously, while demonstrations against high unemployment increase, Iraq’s financial situation is nose-diving. Due to the plummeting of oil prices as a result of the oil price trade war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which make up 90% of its Treasury resources, which is almost empty, Iraq is heading for a crisis that will likely leave millions unpaid. The Prime Minister’s relationship with his fellow OPEC+ nations also 9 appears to be weakening as he failed to cut oil production against his commitment to help stabilise the oil prices, angering Russia and Saudi. Seeing as al-Kadhimi seems to be bowing to pressure by key political figures not to open up the corruption files, his only other options include drastically cutting salaries and/or laying people off altogether. 10 Public uproar has already begun with numerous social media groups with the slogan “Our salaries are a red line,” one of which alone has gathered over “270,000 members within days, most of whom are angry and anxious public employees.” The Prime 11 Minister’s response has been to attempt to alleviate short term struggles with the borrowing of $2.5 billion from local banks to cover May’s wages which he only just succeeded to do. The fact that the budget deficit, according to the IMF will reach 22% of GDP by the end of the year, the highest number of all MENA nations, simply exacerbates the debt crisis further.
Furthermore, Iraq’s relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan must further be re-evaluated to integrate and unite the kurds and arabs in the country, to be patriotic under one flag. Currently, a third of Iraq’s oil reserves lie in the Kurdistan region which they use to leverage Iraq to carry out their demands. The fact that a group of people are using a newly made cultural identity from an amalgamation of areas across the Middle East for political gain to achieve full autonomy of land which has historically been owned by the Iraqi state and is illegally seizing territory is a huge undermining of sovereignty and is a key weak point of the Iraqi government. Only last week, the Brookings Institute of strategy and foreign economic policy, situated in Washington D.C. which advises and provides research as a think tank to the American government, discussed how the US should go about the strategic dialogue with the Iraqi government. Among others, a major point was that the American government should work to enhance its relations with Kurds in Baghdad and to even push them to protest in favour of the al-Kadhimi government.
Their ultimate aim in doing so is to help retain the premiership of Mustafa 13 al-Kadhimi who they see as working for their interests in their favour in Iraq, and, with their potential push for Kurdistan’s full autonomy, this would provide them with a key military and geo-political advantage in the Middle East. Dividing and partitioning Iraq has always been part of American foreign policy as seen with Dick Cheyney under the Bush administration and even Joe Biden under the Obama administration who appears to be the front runner in the next US presidential elections.
To alleviate from the impact of the current financial crisis, the most realistic, economically sustainable and just way of going forward to give back to the Iraqi people is to investigate fully and retrieve the hundreds of billions of dollars stolen from the public by corrupt officials. Although loaning can be very beneficial in the short term, long term repaying strategies must be put in place to avoid another crisis. If this can tie Iraq over in the short term, the Iraqi economy could also be made to flourish in the long run if corruption is sorted NOW. Iraq is the second largest oil exporter and producer in the world, with the potential to be the largest.
It is solely due to corruption that Iraq is not thriving economically. Therefore, this requires someone with great integrity whose words match their actions which is not what Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has succeeded to do. It is only a question of time until the curfew is lifted and much greater protests will erupt. How much longer will the man who vowed to curb the external influence of the US and Iran yet was put in power as a direct result of their backdoor deal be in his position. The longer he retains his premiership, the longer the US will try 15 to use Iraq as a strategic point to achieve its foreign policy objectives, with al-Kadhimi as their puppet, utterly undermining the sovereignty of a once great nation. Iraq needs to be on good terms with both the US and Iran, who have strong influence in the country, as, in their separate ways, they can facilitate the economic prosperity of Iraq, however a reciprocal, do ut des relationship is paramount for going forward in the future, and, right now, Iraq must achieve its full independence from external forces. The defining question that should be taken from this article is, how long will the Iraqi people allow the premiership of Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whose empty promises to those who have suffered so much hardship and instability, and is explicitly acting on behalf of a warped foreign policy objective.