After hundreds of demonstrators were killed by Iraqi forces, Adel Abdul Mahdi announced he will step down as the country’s leader. NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro speaks to Mahdi’s advisor, Laith Kubba.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It is a revolution. That’s according to one Iraqi man quoted in The Guardian newspaper. More than 400 demonstrators have been killed in Iraq since the anti-government protests began in October. Now the country’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, is stepping down. The Iraqi Parliament has approved his resignation of his Cabinet in its meeting today. His government is expected, though, to assume a caretaker role until a new prime minister is selected. And that may take some time. We’re joined now by Laith Kubba, an independent adviser to outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Welcome to the program.
LAITH KUBBA: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Four hundred people have been killed in these protests. Security forces killed 45 protesters on Thursday in Nasiriyah. It’s the blood of the Iraqi people that’s being spilled by its own government. Shouldn’t this resignation have happened sooner? And why didn’t it?
KUBBA: It should have happened. I was one of many who advised the prime minister not to take responsibility for the killings that took place earlier, bearing in mind there will be follow-up on them and bearing in mind he shouldn’t be fully responsible for what happened.
I think he got signals from many circles, international and local, to stay on and that he can contain the situation. I think they’ve grossly underestimated the rage that was out there, and they’ve misread basically what it was all about. It wasn’t about small politics and parties seeking more jobs. It was much deeper than that. And I think up until this moment, not all politicians have read the situation as it is emerging now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: First, in the U.S., there was a lot of money and blood spent in Iraq after the U.S. invasion. The U.S. still has some influence. How engaged has this administration been in the transition?
KUBBA: I think there has been a vacuum, of course, recently. I think Iraq has dropped off the radar screen. It’s very much at the back burner. And I think, wrongly, they also given messages to the prime minister that his continuity in power after the riots and after the killings is a desirable goal for the U.S. and that it’s better that he stays in power. Iran gave him the same signals, and I think the U.K. also gave him that signal. This was after the initial round of killings that took place. I think that gave the prime minister the confidence that he should stay on. But as he said, he totally misread the mood in the country.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. What was ushered in, in part, by the U.S. invasion of Iraq is sectarianism, the rise of the influence of Iran, as you mentioned, militia violence and a ruling class that the processors say has plundered the country. People are saying that this is now a revolution to get rid of the elites. Can Iraq hold itself together, in your view?
KUBBA: I think Iraq can hold itself together, but certainly, there need to be serious changes in the 2003 regime. I think with all the good intentions and with all the misgivings about how the U.S. read the country – but the bottom line – the system that was built and the powers that took over that system had led the country now to a dead end. The country cannot continue with that system and with this political class.
So the question now is how to map out a transition that will be least costly to the country, bearing in mind Iraq – in the midst of a region full of turbulence and violence, Iraq has just got itself out of the water with ISIL, with Daesh. And it needed a year, at least, to pick itself together. Now we are back again to the drawing board, trying to modify the system. And my guess is Iraq can make it, but it takes – it will take a transition.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: On Friday, the powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said the protesters should continue to press their demands and that the people, not the government, should pick the next prime minister. Who do you see getting the job? And with that being the case, I mean, it seems that a lot of volatility might be ahead.
KUBBA: I think phase one is that the same elite will try to put a candidate, but everybody knows this is not going to work. I think we need to focus on a transition where a council of dignitaries play an intermediatary (ph) role to win the confidence back again of the street into the government and into the process.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Laith Kubba was an adviser to the outgoing Prime Minister Abdul Abdul Mahdi (ph). He joined us from London. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
KUBBA: Thank you.
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