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What's Next For Iraq

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Iraq's prime minister is close to losing his job over protests in his country. Since the anti-government demonstrations started in early October, more than 220 people have been killed. Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has promised reform, and now Iraq's president has said the prime minister will quit if the various political groups in Iraq's parliament agree on a suitable replacement. We've called Laith Kubba, who is an independent adviser to the embattled prime minister. Welcome to the program, sir.

LAITH KUBBA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Is the prime minister really quitting?

KUBBA: I think pressure has mounted, and it's now a question of working out details. I do believe he eventually going to be assigned a transition. But all attention, all effort now is focused on trying to find an alternative and saving the country from slipping into violent political conflict.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that that is one fear here - that these protests, which have already certainly been deadly enough, could become far worse, and the conflict could become far worse?

KUBBA: I think the underlying trend is more important. The current prime minister came to power a year ago because the Shias - especially powerful armed groups - could not agree among themselves who should run the country. So they found a compromise alternative, which is the current prime minister. He did not come from any particular political group. What happened now - those young protesters are not part of any political party or group. Their demands are very simple. And they disturb that balance. The attempts that were made to contain them has failed. And that's the reason the government and the political establishment has started compromising quickly with the attempt of containing the demonstrators. But by doing that, they're actually pitching themselves to have a fight among themselves over power. So things are a bit slippery currently.

INSKEEP: And we also have to ask if you think the political establishment as you describe it can survive simply by changing the person who happens to be at the top or whether the protests would continue anyway.

KUBBA: I think the protests now - demands and expectations have moved from simply being about employment and improving conditions to changing the government and the prime minister. And now they are pushing further. They are looking at election laws. They are looking even about foreign influence in the country. And this is what is worrying the establishment - is, how are we going to deal with all this increasing independent force (ph) that nobody expected to emerge so quickly on the scene?

INSKEEP: When you say foreign influence in the country, do you mean Iran, which is very powerful there?

KUBBA: Of course, Iran is very powerful. But the counternarrative - I think it's pushed by pro-Iranian groups, the ones that are saying, well, America has an influence, too. And they try to paint the demonstrators as being proxies for the U.S. But that's far from reality. So now the attention is focused about the independence of the Iraqi government from Iran's influence. And this is a very recent add-on issue that emerged amongst the demonstrators' demands.

INSKEEP: Laith Kubba is an independent adviser to Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who, for the moment, anyway, is Iraq's prime minister. Thank you very much.

KUBBA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.