Following the regional trend of uprisings, Iraq’s government, led by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, is facing protests from Iraq’s youth. The young population in Iraq is sizable, and their opinion of the national government will most certainly be a game-changer. The CIA world fact book cites the median age in Iraq as being 21 years, but the UN cites it as being as young as 19. 78% of the population is under 35 years of age. Iraqi youth account for 50% of Iraq’s unemployed. Primary school attendance has slipped in recent years to less than 40%.
Protests against social and economic conditions broke out in Iraq on February 4th and have continued relentlessly, although the size and location of the protests have varied. Demonstrators shout slogans such as “we are time bombs,” signaling that Iraqis will not be appeased with minor improvements indefinitely. In response, the Prime Minister declared that the government’s new budget would create 288,000 jobs, infrastructure reform and economic assistance. Economic and social improvements are an opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of a dissatisfied population, and certain political parties have a far better ability to deliver than others. In December of 2010, Muqtada Al-Sadr’s political party “The Sadr Trend” gave Nouri Al Maliki the 40 seats in parliament necessary to form a government. In return for their political support, Sadrists were given the ministries of municipality, water, tourism, construction, and housing. Sadrists now have the upper hand in distributing funds and support to infrastructure projects that will bring desperately needed electricity, water and reconstruction to Iraq. These projects will generate employment in specific areas chosen by the ministry; Sadrists can allocate funds to regions where they need to rally political support or reward political patronage.
Still, the demands of the Iraqi youth may be answered in government by a political demographic rather than a political party. In last year’s parliamentary election 22% of Iraq’s elected parliamentarians were between the age of 30 and 40 – that’s 71 members of Parliament. These politicians can attest and relate to the frustrations of the nation’s youth.