On October 1, protesters flooded the streets of Baghdad, decrying high rates of unemployment and rampant corruption. In the ensuing weeks, the protests ballooned. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis marched in the capital and in other cities in the south of the country. As tensions mounted, government forces and paramilitary groups responded by killing over 300 people and wounding nearly 15,000 more. Baghdad has been in a near-constant state of upheaval for the past month. Government forces recently retook many plazas and bridges that had been occupied by the protesters, but the central Tahrir Square remains a hub for the popular uprising, replete with sound systems, medical tents, and even a free revolutionary newspaper.
Over the last decade, Iraqi leaders have defused multiple bouts of popular protest by promising reforms and reshuffling cabinet portfolios. That approach has not worked this time. Despite pledges by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s government to reform electoral laws and consider holding early elections, protesters remain in the streets, calling for the government to resign, for wider structural changes—including some demands for a new constitution—and for an end to political horse-trading, sectarian patronage, and endemic corruption.
In a little more than six weeks, the popular uprising