Reactions of Iraqi political leaders to protests
Four days of protests in Iraq, in which dozens had been killed by October 4 and thousands injured, have brought only limited reactions from Iraqi politicians. This is due to their reticence to take sides, lest they choose the wrong side, and also their concern over the path the protests may take. Iraq's Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, waited until the evening of Thursday to give a speech. He, or those around him, had already ordered the internet shut down to stop protests spreading. In addition those around the Prime Minister, or in other ministries, had ordered the use of heavy handed tactics and live fire against demonstrators.
On Thursday evening Abdul Mahdi claimed he was listening and working toward reforms. There were not "magic solutions...We do not live in ivory towers - we walk among you in the streets of Baghdad," he said.
A review of the other political leaders in Iraq and their statements gives a sense of the power vacuum and lack of leadership that many protesters have pointed to.
Muqtada al-Sadr (مقتدى الصدر), whose Sairoon party won the most seats in the 2018 elections, appeared to express sympathy on October 3. Later he said his members of parliament would not take part in parliament and by Friday evening called on the government to resign and hold early elections.
With 42 people dead by Friday October 4 the leading Shi'ite Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani warned against more violence. He called for restraint and for the government to listen.
The head of the Fatah Alliance, the second largest party, and a key leader in Badr, which is part of the PMU, Amiri (هادي العامري) has remained relatively silent since the protests began.
Hakim (سید عمار الحكيم), whose party has 19 seats in parliament, had already been critical of the decision to remove Abdul Wahabl al-Saadi, the popular CTS commander. The protesters were in part galvanized by the controversial decision. He was also critical of the response to the protests on October 1.
Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (حيدر العبادي), whose government also faced protests in 2016 ad 2018, spoke out on October 4, calling for early elections. "To ensure that the horizon is not blocked by the reforms demanded by the people, early elections should be called for the formation of a legitimate constitutional government capable of carrying out its national tasks, by 2020." Abadi's party is the third largest in parliament. His announcement, following Sadr's, meant two out of the three largest parties had called for elections by Friday evening.
Iraqi President Barham Salih was recently in New York where he met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and urged the UN to help Iraq remain free from conflict. On October 2 he noted "peaceful protest is a constitutional right guaranteed to citizens."
President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani released a statement on October 4 calling for the preservation of law, security and stability. He noted that peaceful protests are a right, "on the condition that they do not turn violent, threaten the security, and dismantle the state’s institutions.” He called for restraint and noted that the problems were "a result of the successive Iraqi governments’ wrong practices and policies for decades.”
The former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (نوري المالكي), whose own heavy-handed tactics before 2014 were blamed for radicalizing opposition groups and extremists, warned against the distorting of the demonstrations and argued for respect for the security forces. He spoke out on October 4. On October 5 many social media accounts shared images of protesters removing his posters. He was mocked for condemning the use of violence against protesters.
المالكي يحذر من "تحريف المظاهرات عن مسارها" ويدعو للتعاون مع الأجهزة الأمنية
Parliament speaker Al-Halbousi (محمد الحلبوسي) remained relatively quiet during the lead-up to the protests. On October 4 he spoke, arguing that the government was trying to stop the bloodshed and that "outlaws" should not be allowed to exploit the abuses to destroy property. He compared the danger of corruption to terrorism and said corrupt people should be held accountable.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
The former Prime Minister of Iraq, whose party has 21 seats in parliament, wrote on October 1 "Demonstrating peacefully is a legitimate right and safeguarded in the #Iraq constitution. We are in full support of justified requests by the people and call on the government along with the security services to preserve their entitlements."
The leader of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, a part of the PMU, was reportedly critical of the harsh response to the protests on October 2. He said that the wounding of protesters would undermine security in the country.
Nujaifi (أسامة النجيفي), whose party has only 14 seats in parliament, was quoted while speaking by phone to a television channel on October 4: "The Government bears full responsibility for the current events."