At least 4 dead in Baghdad riots as country teeters on the brink of revolution
Protesters once again penetrated the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, occupying buildings and battling police and soldiers.
At least four protesters were killed when police opened fire with live ammunition. Another 90 were wounded. The prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, condemned the Green Zone breach – the second in three weeks – and called for adherence to the law.
But Abadi is rapidly becoming irrelevant in Iraq. No one is listening to him. And he has failed to enact reforms that would address the enormous corruption in Iraqi society.
Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has stepped into the leadership void and now has firm control of the street demonstrations. His goal is nothing less than revolution.
“Storming into state institutions and tampering with public property cannot be accepted and tolerated,” Abadi said.
But Abadi’s leadership is seen as weak. His previous denunciation of protesters who forced their way into the IZ three weeks ago to take over parliament has been clearly ignored.
Squeezed by years of violence and a deepening economic crisis, Iraqis are fed up with government corruption and the leadership’s inability to protect them from repeated rounds of violence.
Friday’s demonstration followed a series of bombings in Baghdad that left more than 100 dead and hundreds more wounded; mostly Shi’ites from the city’s poorer neighborhoods.
Abadi’s attempts to ease tensions by restructuring the government have failed, and he has not been able to pull together the different political factions squabbling for power.
The Sadr brigades played a prominent role in the civil war, including carrying out numerous attacks on Americans. Sadr, a creature of Iran, is being funded and assisted by Tehran in his efforts to destablize the government.
Iran's game is simple: take control of the Iraqi government. As Sadr becomes more powerful, the various factions may begin to line up behind him, if only to break the impasse in parliament and get rid of the incompetent Abadi.
Meanwhile, the army is showing signs of life, as it's kicked the Islamic State out of about 20% of the territory ISIS previously occupied. The army wants to retake the city of Mosul but has yet to demonstrate that it can handle such a huge enterprise.
How did Iraq get to this juncture? No doubt, the poor leadership of the current government had a lot to do with it. But let's not forget that the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton celebrated bringing American troops home far earlier than most Iraqis wanted. Since then, the rise of ISIS has occurred, and the stability brought by U.S. forces has disappeared as the government has devolved into quarreling factions.
Sadr is biding his time and probably won't make a bid for power until Abadi is removed by parliament – which may not be imminent, but definitely becomes more of a possibility the longer the crisis continues. One thing is certain: Iraq cannot continue to be divided. Either Abadi finds it within himself to rise above the fray and bring the country together, or someone else will emerge to do it.