Today the Sadrist protesters stormed the ‘Green Zone’ and the parliament in Baghdad.
This is not good, but there is something good about it. I am somewhat surprised that nobody was shot during all of this drama.
The ‘Green Zone’ is a fortified area in Baghdad that includes government buildings, residences of government officials, and foreign embassies. If such an area were to be stormed in another Arab capital, there would definitely have been bloodshed.
In the opinion of some commentators in the Middle East, what happened today in Baghdad was a sign of weakness of the Iraqi political system (some went as far as to say that the Iraqi political system has collapsed).
Had the security forces protecting the ‘Green Zone’ opened fire at the protesters and drove them away, I bet that many of those commentators would not have mourned the Iraqi political system the way they did.
I have not seen today any collapse. I only saw protesters storming the parliament. That is not a good thing, but it is better than a real collapse in Iraq had the security forces opened fire on the protesters.
Iraq has been in chaos since June 2014, when ISIS took control of Mosul and much of Iraq. What is happening now does not add much to the collapse that is already there.
The root of the current crisis in Iraq goes back to the Maliki era. Maliki governed Iraq for 8 years between 2006 and 2014 (The Iranians tried to keep Maliki in his position forever, and they were willing to use force to keep him, like they did with Assad in Syria, but the religious leader Sistani foiled the Iranian plot and helped to oust Maliki).
During his reign Maliki had control of many billions of dollars that Iraq gained from selling oil. Strangely, Maliki spent only a little portion of that money on rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure and economy. Most of the money was paid out to Iraqi citizens in the form of salaries, subsidies, gifts, etc. Officials in the Maliki government bragged that they were paying out to their citizens some of the highest salaries in the world.
Because Iraq does not have local production, most of that money was used by Iraqis to purchase imported products (the neighboring countries of Iraq made big profits from exporting to Iraq). So the revenues of Iraqi oil helped boost neighboring economies rather than the economy of Iraq itself.
When oil prices recently crashed, the Iraqi government was left with no money to continue paying out to its citizens the huge cash payments that it had been paying. Moreover, Iraq still suffers from severe power shortages and very bad infrastructure in general. Local production is still very weak and there are hardly any jobs other than government jobs.
Given all that, it is not surprising that Iraqis are outraged and they are protesting against the incompetent politicians.
For me, it is not surprising that the Iraqi politicians are incompetent, because those politicians have no experience in what they do. (It is rumored that Maliki was a seller of rings in Damascus before he became a prime minister of Iraq.) What surprises me is the role of the American advisors. I do not understand what those advisors were exactly doing in Iraq.
I do not know what the American advisors were doing in Iraq, but I know from history that when there is military occupation, it is common for the occupying country to mismanage the economy of the occupied country.
The French led Syria into bankruptcy when they occupied it in the early 20th century. Instead of developing the local economy, the French military officers were happy paying out treasury money to Syrians. They thought that giving money to Syrians would keep them away from anti-French activities. Besides, such policy would (theoretically) encourage the Syrians to import French products.
It would seem that the Americans thought similarly when they were occupying Iraq. Distributing oil money on the Iraqis would appease them and keep them away from insurgent activities. Also the huge imports to Iraq from countries such as Syria and Iran would appease those countries and make them stop supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Such a policy is, of course, a short-sighted policy, but the Americans were trying to get out of Iraq as fast as possible, so a short-term solution was good enough for them. Now the Iraqis have to struggle with the consequences.