Protests in Iraq await ‘big Friday’ for change

“We know how to deal with protests,” the IRGC’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani allegedly said.

 (photo credit: REUTERS/ ALAA AL-MARJANI)
(photo credit: REUTERS/ ALAA AL-MARJANI)
The rising crescendo of protests in Iraq this week have led to another estimated 100 deaths. This is on top of the 150 incurred earlier this month. But Iraqis are steadfast, particularly in Baghdad and in mostly Shi’ite areas in the South. Despite being gunned down by snipers and hit in the head by tear gas canisters, they have stood their ground.
Iran, which has many allies and investments in Iraq, is nonplussed. Iraq is now Iran’s “near abroad” and Tehran has sent advisors to Baghdad telling them to crack down. “We know how to deal with protests,” the IRGC’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani allegedly said on October 2.
But Iraq is not a well controlled society, and many security force members are hesitant to shoot their own countrymen. Instability and corruption have helped the protesters because corrupt countries tend to be worse at suppressing their own people, because their security forces are not particularly zealous.
The zealous units in Iraq are the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMU, linked to Iran and rooted in Shi’ite areas. These forces emerged to fight ISIS but became an official paramilitary force in 2018. They have a political party in parliament called the Fatah Alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri, who formerly served with the IRGC in the 1980s fighting against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Now, he is one of the most powerful men in Iraq, and his party is the second largest. Through his party and the Badr Organization, he runs the Interior Ministry and influences the PMU. As such, he plays a key role with several others in suppressing the protests.
Iraq’s Iranian allies have used several methods, such as snipers, closing critical TV stations, shutting the Internet and claiming that the protests are supported by Israel and the US. But so far none of these have worked. Even curfews have failed.
Now, the protesters look forward to this Friday, a week after they began again in earnest on October 25, to see if Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi will resign. Rumors persist that he might go. But if he the goes, Amiri could step in. And that would not be what the protesters want.