Motivated by the government's patronage and corruption, massive political protests in Iraq have mobilised the majority Shia population and weakened Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He is caught between an intensely disgruntled population and an equally stubborn ruling elite. In a heavily armed population with a recent history of civil war, there is a salient risk that popular demands will be pursued through violence.

The political crisis that has engulfed Baghdad over the last three months has seen the fortified seat of government, the Green Zone, placed under siege by political protesters, parliamentary votes of no confidence descend into fistfights and finally, on 30 April, the Iraqi parliament overrun by demonstrators frustrated at the government's inability to reform itself and take meaningful action against the ingrained and pervasive corruption that since 2003 has helped bring Iraq to its knees.

Since August 2005, popular protests triggered by electricity shortages have become a regular feature of Iraqi summers. As temperatures soar, those who cannot afford to run their own generators have to face Iraq's oppressive summer heat without the aid of air conditioners or refrigerators. The summer of 2015 was extraordinarily hot. Popular demonstrations starting in July in a suburb of Iraq's southern port city of Basra quickly spread across the southern part of the country and up to Baghdad. As with previous summers, protestors linked the lack of electricity to rampant corruption.

Recently, the low price of oil exports that has forced the budget into deficit has exacerbated the government's failure to provide electricity and heightened tensions. But this time around, the demonstrators have quickly and astutely pinpointed the Muhasasa Ta'ifia – that is, the ethno-sectarian quota system used to form every Iraqi governing body since 2003 – as the underlying cause of government corruption and institutional weakness. Under the muhasasa system, cabinet posts, ministries and their resources are divided up according to communal quotas. Party officials then exploit the resources of the ministry they have been awarded for political and often personal gain. In central Baghdad, demonstrations focused on Tahrir Square, with hundreds of thousands of people demanding the elimination of the muhasasa and, beyond that, an end to Shia Islamist religious parties' domination of government.

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