Iraqi protesters take aim at Baghdad and Ankara

Iraqi protesters take aim at Baghdad and Ankara
Iraqis - including Shia militia fighters - took to the streets of Baghdad on Saturday to protest at Turkey's military presence in Iraq, and Abadi's inability to handle the crisis.
3 min read
13 December, 2015
Saturday's protest was seen as an attack against the Iraqi prime minister and Ankara [AFP]

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of the Iraqi capital on Saturday to demand the withdrawal of Turkish troops in the north of the country.

Protesters burned Turkish flags and carried banners attacking the Ankara.

Among the crowd were hundreds of fighters from Iraq's many Shia militias - many viewed as opponents of the country's embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi - whose leaders have announced that Turkish troops were 'legitimate targets' for reprisals. 

Abadi has pursued an anti-corruption drive since he took office and attempted to rein in Iraq's powerful Shia militias.

Abadi challenger?

The fact that many of the militiamen in Baghdad's Tahrir Square were dressed in fatigues is seen as another swipe at the Abadi government's ineffectiveness at dealing with the crisis.

As was the presence of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has been derided for sectarian policies against Iraq's Sunni population and overseeing a government mired with corruption. 

As he made his way through the crowd he was mobbed by supporters who clambered to greet the controversial Iraqi politician.

Although Maliki is backed by many Shia militias he is also viewed by many of his coreligionists as a symbol of the vast wealth accumulated by many of Iraq's elected politicians during their time in office.

Corruption has been blamed for the sweeping advances the Islamic State group made in June 2014.

The support the extremists got from otherwise moderate Sunnis was also viewed as a reflection of Maliki's alienating form of governance.

Iraqi army units stationed in the north of the country rapidly disintegrated due to manpower shortages and insufficient supplies as IS forces and allied Sunni militias steamrollered into them.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed's Iraq reporter said some in the crowd hit the former prime minister with their shoes.

Maliki and his associates were targeted by Abadi's anti-corruption drive.

A wave of protests against corruption and power shortages swept Iraq during the summer months. 

However, the protests died down and Abadi appears to have watered down some of his efforts in the face of opposition from Iran, one of Maliki's key allies.

Turkey's latest military presence in northern Iraq began last year, but a new batch of troops sent over the border last week led to mass protests in Baghdad.

Ankara insists that the Kurdish local government invited the troops in to train Peshmerga fighters.

President Tayyip Recep Erdogan has said a withdrawal by Turkish troops is "out of the question".

Erbil denies it agreed to increase the presence of Turkish troops at a base close to the Islamic State group's self-declared capital Mosul.

Ankara and Baghdad

What the protests appear to be an attempt to challenge Abadi's handling of the crisis.

However, Saad al-Muttalibi, an Iraqi lawmaker who is allied to Maliki, said that the demonstration was not aimed at Abadi.

"This is a clear message that the Iraqi politicians and the people of Iraq are against this intrusion into the sovereignty of Iraq," he said.

"We support the processes, but we think the people will be heard in such important events.”

Harith al-Qarawee, an Iraq researcher at Brandeis University, disagreed and said that many were motivated by a desire to weaken Abadi's popularity over Iraq's Shia majority.

"For Maliki and his allies in the Shia paramilitary groups, this was an opportunity to consolidate their Shia constituency," he said. "Iraq is the 'sick man' of the region."

Qarawee added that divisions were benefiting the Islamic State group who still hold much of northern and western Iraq.

It is also leading other Iraqi powers to supersede Baghdad's already fragile rule over the rest of the country.