Elites backed by Iran are clinging to power in Iraq

THE TOMB of a dead Shia cleric might seem an odd target for Iraqi protesters angry about corruption, poor governance and a lack of jobs. Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim resisted Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s old dictator, and helped to create the modern state. But he also had close ties to Iran, which has assisted the Iraqi government in trying to subdue the protesters. Such meddling enrages Iraqis, who threw petrol bombs at Hakim’s shrine—and the Iranian-backed militiamen guarding it—earlier this month in Najaf. They also torched the nearby Iranian consulate.

Iraq has been rocked by protests since October. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Baghdad and the Shia south. Officials have promised reforms. The security forces have fired on the demonstrators, killing more than 400. Neither concessions nor repression have worked. Things came to a head on November 29th, when the senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for a change of government. In response, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s prime minister, said he would step down.

But the protesters and the ruling elite know that Mr Abdul-Mahdi’s departure is not the endgame. Rather, it is likely to mark the start of a new, potentially more violent struggle over what comes next for the government. It will probably lead to even greater involvement by Iran....

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