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New Iraq Research Examines Citizen Unrest in Basra and Shows Opposition to Iranian Influence

May 19, 2020

Rich in resources, poorly governed and prone to citizen unrest, the Iraqi city of Basra has been a bellwether of the wider sources of political instability afflicting Iraq. The protest movement unleashed across the country in 2019 reflected widespread anger at the deficiencies of Iraq’s government and perceptions of malign Iranian influence. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing a global oil price crash and unleashing unprecedented global devastation, turmoil in Iraq stands to reach new heights – making the task of understanding the country’s deeper systemic problems all the more critical.

In order to provide insights into the origins of Basra’s unrest, the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research conducted a series of studies in December 2019 that examine the dynamics of the city’s protest movement.


The first report reveals widespread support for demonstrations as well as distrust in the government and frustration over its inefficiencies. Despite government attempts to delegitimize Basra’s protests, focus group discussions revealed that the movement is popular among citizens of all ages and backgrounds. Focus groups emphasized the government’s failure to deliver on its frequent promises due to corruption and ineffective institutions.

As Iraq forms a new government with Mustafa Al-Kadhimi as Prime Minister, the protest movement will be watching eagerly to see if citizen grievances will be addressed.  With the spring weather inviting outdoor mobilization and restrictions easing on social distancing, the past weeks have already seen an uptick in protests despite social distancing recommendations.

This research will be released as a series of four reports and will be published in the coming months. For updates on this report series and our work in Iraq, follow us at @IRIglobal and iri.org.    

Methodology

IRI contracted IIACS to conduct focus group discussions and key informant interviews in Basra in December 2019. The focus group discussions included participants of various ages and backgrounds, while the key informant interviews engaged protest leaders, political party leaders and government officials.