Iraqi protesters set sights on local governors

Protesters in Iraq are demanding that provincial governors be sacked and the killers of demonstrators be found and prosecuted.

al-monitor Demonstrators gesture as they take part in the ongoing anti-government protests after newly appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called for the release of all detained protesters, at Jumhuriya Bridge in Baghdad, Iraq, May 10, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily.

Topics covered

murder, provincial councils, mustafa al-kadhimi, protests in iraq, iraq protests, iraqi politics

Jun 24, 2020

Protesters in central and southern Iraq are demanding the sacking of governors and local government administrators. The protests have spread to Kirkuk, where demonstrators called for removing the governor and other local officials, calling them representatives of corrupt parties.

On Oct. 28, 2019, the Council of Representatives voted to dissolve the governorate councils and authorize the governor to manage financial and administrative matters. It also voted to end the work of the district, provincial and local councils. In the ongoing demonstrations that broke out in reaction, protesters have been targeted by unknown armed groups. More than 700 have been killed and near 30,000 wounded.

After Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi called June 6 for the formation of a ministerial committee headed by Minister of Interior Othman al-Ghanmi to appraise the performance of governors and departmental heads, four southern governorates erupted into angry demonstrations calling for their governors' dismissal. On June 7, demonstrators in Al-Diwaniyah governorate demanded the dismissal of the governor and his two deputies and their replacement by a judge.

On June 8, protesters in various cities called on the administrators to resign and be replaced with “independent” governors, asking them to resign from their positions peacefully. The same day, protesters burned the governor’s house in the Shiite holy city of Najaf and called on him and the district directors to resign and for the arrest of those behind the murders of protesters since October.

Not far from Najaf, hundreds of people took to the streets of Karbala, calling for the dismissal of the governor and for the killers of protesters to be prosecuted.

Residents of Basra demonstrated on June 13, demanding the dismissal of Governor Assad al-Eidani and Basra's police chief.

State of Law Coalition parliament member Abdul Hadi Saadawi told Al-Monitor that neither such demonstrations nor the performance appraisal committee will do much to oust the governors.

“Any action on the part of the prime minister to sack district directors, heads of local governments and governors would be illegal. The legal solution is to amend the constitution, which empowers the provincial councils to elect the governors. If the law is changed, then the governors and other top local officials can be appointed by the prime minister or elected by the people directly. Once new legislation stipulates this, there wouldn’t be any need for a cabinet decision or presidential approval.”

Saadawi said he believes “some political parties are trying to provoke the street to gain control of the positions of district directors and provincial governors.” He called on the federal courts to nullify any governor appointments made by the prime minister.

In a statement to Al-Monitor, Ihsan al-Shammari, head of the Iraqi Center for Political Thought, attributed the wave of calls for the dismissal of senior administrative officials in the central and southern governorates to “popular discontent resulting from the governments and legislative councils’ failure to provide services.” He explained, “The governments and their legislative and administrative bodies have been subject to the quota system, marred by corruption and deals. Some governors have become a facade for federal political forces as they cover their illegal activities.”

Shammari went on, “Kadhimi’s call to form a performance appraisal committee for local governments coincided with a demonstration calling for the dismissal of governors in Basra, Najaf and Nasiriyah, where Abdul Mahdi went against the will of the masses and intervened by appointing a governor." He said the committee's objectives have two objectives: to investigate and deal appropriately with those involved in violence and corruption appear, and also to address the initial demands of the demonstrators. Kadhimi working to resolve these issues before organizing the next elections.

Mayor of Samarra Mahmoud Khalaf al-Samarrai told Al-Monitor, “The powerful parties are taking advantage of the prime minister’s plan to reform local governance and form a committee to appraise the performance of local governments to create chaos, weaken the role of the government and the prospective committee and have better access to positions.”

He went on, “The committee formed under the chairmanship of a security official — Interior Minister Othman Al-Ghanmi — to assess the role of governors should include service management experts, not security personnel.”

Samarrai expects Kadhimi plan's for reforming the provincial governments to include local governments in the center and south without Anbar and Salah al-Din.

Former minister Wael Abdel Latif told Al-Monitor, “Demonstrators’ calls for the dismissal of governors are legitimate due to their catastrophic failure to manage the affairs of the governorates, the collapse of infrastructure and the looting of funds earmarked for projects in cities.”

He said, “COVID-19 and the demonstrations have disrupted the provincial council elections in April,” adding, “The prime minister does not have the right to dismiss governors, as this falls within the prerogative of the governorate councils or the parliament.”

Former judge Ali al-Tamimi told Al-Monitor that firing governors “will be possible if dishonesty, neglect and squandering of public funds are proven. The prime minister can propose dismissing a governor when forming the investigative committee, and if there is proof that said governor has underperformed, the matter gets referred to parliament, as the provincial councils were dismissed last year. Then the issue will be resolved during a parliamentary interrogation session.”

“The governor can also submit his resignation to the prime minister due to the absence of governorate councils,” Tamimi explained.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Iraq

al-monitor
Iraqi lawmaker calls for arming tribes amid attacks on Sunni communities
Shelly Kittleson | | Jul 31, 2020
al-monitor
Assassinations, kidnappings shake Baghdad
Lujain Elbaldawi | | Jul 29, 2020
al-monitor
Iraqi government not giving up on early elections
Omar Sattar | Iraqi elections | Jul 29, 2020
al-monitor
Iraqi doctors under siege as they battle surge in COVID-19 cases
Azhar Al-Ruabie | Coronavirus | Jul 25, 2020