Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faces a new challenge Tuesday with the expiration of the 100-day cooling off period he set to quell violent protests nationwide, as the government struggles to implement reforms and expand services.
As protests threatened governments across the Middle East this year, Maliki moved quickly in late February to head off unrest in Iraq following the deaths of more than two dozen people in clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
Maliki, under pressure both from the public and the country’s fragile coalition government, promised at the time that he would spend the next three months evaluating the performance of cabinet ministers and would ask for the resignations of those found to be not up to the job.
Ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, on a day that also saw the deaths of five U.S. troops and bombings and assassinations across Iraq, cabinet officials met with reporters Monday to announce a greater awareness about unemployment, a lack of clean drinking water and an inconsistent electricity supply.
But State Minister Ali al-Dabbagh, who also serves as the spokesman for the Cabinet, said there would be no immediate decision about whether any cabinet ministers will be asked to give up their jobs.
Dabbagh stressed it will take time for Iraqi residents to see dramatic improvements in services, and said in the coming days each minister will appear on television to detail plans for improving services.
“We cannot say nothing has been achieved,” Dabbagh said. “So many things have been completed and we have projects that need more than 100 days. The 100 days were just to observe and realize how to achieve the goals.”
Suzanne al-Saad, a Shiite parliament member from Basra, said she fears the end of the 100-day period could lead to “protests all over Iraq” but cautioned it will take years to dramatically improve residents' lives because the "infrastructure of the country has been decimated."
“The government hasn’t hold the magic sticks to change things within 100 days. We all know that,” Saad said.
In recent weeks, Maliki and security officials have taken steps that appear to be an effort to head off the future demonstrations, which could come as early as Friday.
Several protest organizers have been detained in Baghdad, and military commanders announced earlier this week that all future protests must be held at Ashaab Stadium in eastern Baghdad or Kashafa Stadium in western Baghdad.
Although Maliki’s 100-day pledge diminished protests nationwide, several hundred protesters have continued to gather each Friday in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
Mohammad Fenjan, a protest organizer, said in an interview Monday that “nothing has been accomplished” during the past three months so he expects students, “the unemployed and poor people” to swarm to Tahrir Square this Friday to renew their calls for more reforms.
“It’s our place, we will not give up. We will do it out of Tahrir Square,” Fenjan said. “We will not stop our protests unless the government responds to our demands, and if they try to prevent us from having the protests or demonstration there, we will face them.”