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What Led To Recent Violence In Iraq, Where Anti-Government Protesters Have Been Killed


Let's go now to Iraq, where after weeks of protests, government forces have just killed more than two dozen people in Baghdad and southern Iraq. Last night, anti-government forces torched an Iranian consulate. Over the last two months, at least 350 protesters in Iraq have been killed.

Samya Kullab is Iraq correspondent for The Associated Press, and she joins us now from Baghdad. Welcome.

SAMYA KULLAB: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: There are protests in different parts of the country right now. Do they all have a unified aim?

KULLAB: What the protesters in Baghdad and primarily the southern provinces have in common is this perception that the government in place - the political establishment does not work in their interests. And they see evidence of that in their perceptions of rampant government corruption and the services that this government is supposed to deliver to them. For example, in electricity, there is cuts all the time. And then there is difficulty in finding jobs. And this has persisted since the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the government that has been in place after that time.

And what is common among protesters in all this area is an anger, is a frustration with the current system - one that they don't see working in their favor.

SHAPIRO: Now, I mentioned the protesters set fire to an Iranian consulate yesterday in the city of Najaf. How does Iran play into their concerns?

KULLAB: So a lot of protesters are unhappy with what they perceive to be growing Iranian influence in Iraqi state affairs. A lot of them feel as though political actors who are supposed to serve the interests of Iraq are instead acting on behalf of the interests of Iran. That's a perception that's quite widespread among them on the streets.

SHAPIRO: These protests have been going on for months. Do you have any sense of what's likely to happen next?

KULLAB: First, let's consider the protest movement itself and whether this will be something that evolves and grows or if this is something that gradually fizzles out, which has happened in the past in Iraq. Part of the reason this protest movement has managed to stay strong is because a lot of Iraqis actually support them. They may not be out in the streets, but a lot of people say that what the protesters are doing, you know, they support. So as long as the protesters can maintain that, I think that's an important factor to consider.

There's also what goes on in the political side. Right now, the main political parties have sort of closed ranks around the prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi. So until you have powerful parties calling for his resignation, I think he will remain in place and this sort of situation will persist.

SHAPIRO: Has the government made any concessions at all to protesters' demands?

KULLAB: I think the protests have accomplished a fair bit, actually. I mean, yes, the cabinet recently passed a bill to reform the electoral system that would give protesters more of a say in who they elect to Parliament. And this bill is set to be voted on by the parliament. So that's something that they introduced. The prime minister also introduced a package of reforms meant to provide jobs, improve services very early on in the protest movement.

But the issue is a lot of protesters reject this. Some of them are looking to dismantle the entire political establishment, and that creates a lot of issues for officials, obviously, in power because they think that this is very unrealistic. So in short, yes, the government is taking some measures to placate protesters, but it remains to be seen whether this will be enough.

SHAPIRO: Samya Kullab is Iraq correspondent for The Associated Press. Thanks for speaking with us.

KULLAB: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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