Society Iraq Publications
The Long Game in Iraq: Shia Clerics, Activists Find Common Cause To Confront the State
A new generation of Iraqis has formed an informal alliance with Iraqi clerics in a move that has the potential for a reimaging of the Iraqi state.
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Geneive Abdo May 17, 2021
An Iraqi demonstrator holds a Shia flag during anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, January 29, 2020. (REUTERS/Thaier al-SudanI)
Geneive Abdo
Visiting Fellow
Executive Summary
Nearly 20 years since the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq, a new generation of Iraqis is fighting for a different vision and fate for their country from that of their parents. In doing so, they have formed an informal alliance with Iraqi clerics – a radical departure from the trend in most Arab states, where secular-oriented youth seek to delegitimize religious leaders and institutions. Significant Iraqi clerics have joined forces with civil society activists in a move that has the potential for a reimaging of the Iraqi state. This newfound cooperation is grounded in shared goals: profound domestic political and economic reform and a rejection of Iran’s ideological and political influence in Iraq.
This mosque-street tacit alliance seeks to forge change through several channels, including parliamentary elections scheduled for October. But what is their potential for bringing about political and economic reform? This paper seeks to analyze the informal alliance between some clerics and civil society leaders in opposition to the Shia-led state based upon dozens of interviews in Iraq from January through April, Arabic media reports, social media posts, statements and fatwas from clerics, statements from protesters, and the academic literature. The upcoming elections alone are unlikely to change the power-sharing system, which has existed since the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. However, the informal alliance between protesters and clerics will certainly impact the elections and could usher in the beginning of a more stable Iraq.
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Geneive Abdo is a visiting fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
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