This months edition of Iraq & Kurdistan Focus our consultant looks at the implications of the protest that continue to rage in the Basra Governorate:
- This month’s widespread protests — which began in the Basra Governorate as a demand for jobs and services but quickly spread to other southern governorates and then took on a more menacing tone against the entire political system — are a reminder of the serious underlying social tensions in the country.
- Although the protests have temporarily abated, unless the Federal Government can deliver on the promises that it hastily announced to appease the protestors it is very likely that further unrest will follow. This may take the form of long-term protest camps and sit-ins across several governorates in the south and could pose a major challenge to the political order.
- The unrest has already prompted a more concerted effort by certain political factions to establish Basra Governorate as an independent region but this will be strongly resisted by Baghdad which will seek other ways to contain the crisis.
- The on-going election recount has left the political arena in limbo and the formation of a new government is clearly still some way off, with no signs yet of which alliances will come together to form the biggest bloc. This means that Iraq will be left without a proper government — other than Haidar al-Abad’s acting administration — or parliament for the coming months.
- July saw further attacks and kidnappings by increasingly emboldened Islamic State (IS) remnants in several governorates including Kirkuk and Nineveh. The group will continue to take advantage of the chaos and the security lapses in the more remote parts of the country — including along the border with Syria — to try to regroup and inflict further damage but its impact will remain limited.
- A 23 July terrorist attack by Islamic State against the Erbil Governorate building was shocking because the three attackers were 16-18 year old Kurdish schoolboys. It was a sober reminder that the region is not immune to Islamist militancy and, although such incidents are extremely rare, the region may witness similar attacks in the future.
- The Kurdish economy received a fillip this month when a large Saudi business delegation visited the area. It marks Riyadh’s revived interest in the Kurdish region and future investment may now be forthcoming. At the same time it illustrates Riyadh’s wider political aim to reduce both Turkish and Iranian influence in the Kurdish region.