NEW REPORT: An Inside Look at Iraq’s Popular Movement for Reform

Two years ago today, tens of thousands of Iraqis began turning out at Baghdad’s Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square to peacefully demand their rights. They were sick and tired of being sick and tired of their government’s failure to fight corruption, deliver basic services, or create enough jobs for the 500,000 or more young people entering the work force each year.

In public squares in the port city of Basra and other cities across southern Iraq, people turned out in great numbers. Tuk-tuk drivers ferried people to protest sites, often for free. Many other Iraqis donated and volunteered their services to the cause, including restaurateurs and medics. In a country where six in ten Iraqis are under the age of 25, young people took the lead in the organizing and participation. Through the free expression and art of the movement, this new generation embraced a more inclusive national identity and vision for their country. Activists dubbed their movement “Tishreen” from the Arabic word for October.

The Long Game: Iraq’s “Tishreen” Movement
and the Struggle for Reform

Protesters pose behind barricades they erected facing security forces on the Jumhuriyah bridge in Baghdad. Nov. 11, 2019 / Azhar al-Rubaie.

When Iraqi security forces and militias tried to forcibly end the protests with violence, killing more than 140 protesters and wounding thousands within the first two weeks, only the slogans changed. The Tishreen protesters began demanding justice and accountability for their slain companions, calling for the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi and the scheduling of early elections to replace parliament. The U.S. and international community condemned the violence and UNAMI issued reports documenting the Iraqi government’s egregious rights violations.

In mid-October, the protesters suspended their activities in observance of the annual Arba’een pilgrimage, and then in late October, the protests began anew in larger numbers with mass rallies, marches, encampments, and civil disobedience.

The view from atop the “Turkish Restaurant” of the protest encampment encircling Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Jan. 14, 2020 / Hawre Khalid.

As an organization that closely monitors human security developments in Iraq, EPIC has long followed the almost seasonal antigovernment protests that have been taking place over the past 10 years. But this time, it was different: the creative energy, the sophistication of the grassroots organizers, the refusal to name leaders or do anything to allow the movement to be co-opted by Iraq’s ruling parties, the protest movement’s resiliency in the face of horrific violence, and the nature of the demands — a systemic reform of Iraq’s political system.

To learn more, your EPIC team of researchers and I have been on a remarkable journey for the past year. Through focus group discussions with Tishreen and Kurdish activists, a nationally representative survey of public opinion, an analysis of social media, and dozens of in-depth interviews, we have gained an inside look into Iraq’s popular movement for reform.

None of this work would have been possible without the generous contributions of supporters like you.


This report is not an exhaustive study of Iraq’s protest movement. Our hope is twofold. First, that by choosing to make the movement the core object of research, we might make a positive contribution to the growing volume of work on sociopolitical trends in Iraq. Second, that by contributing to a better understanding of the nature and dynamics of bottom-up change in Iraq, we might help the international community— including the United States and regional powers—to better recognize and respect the integrity and agency of the Iraqi people, both in determining their own future and exercising their country’s sovereignty.

If you like what you see and would like to see more groundbreaking research and advocacy from EPIC, please consider becoming one of our sustaining donors.

Thank you for being a part of the launch of our new report. We hope it will have a much needed impact in support of Iraq’s peace and development.

When sharing the report via social media, we’re using #TishreenReport. Shukran jazeelan and zor zor supas!

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