Iraqi protesters are demanding the government be overhauled and the country’s ruling elite thrown out of office while the Trump administration called for early elections to quell the violence.
More than 300 people have died since the demonstrations started Oct. 1. On Monday, Baghdad rejected U.S. requests for a snap election.
“If they agree to hold early elections, the same faces will return … They’ll just be reshuffled,” Thawrah al-Ezzawi told Al Jazeera from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square where the protests have been focused.
He contends that early elections “would not work” to stop the violence because people want “real change.”
“It’s like a game of chess,” al-Ezzawi said. “The system needs to change completely, and the people in power need to be held accountable … They can’t think that they can simply leave, that’s not enough. Iraqi families are living under the poverty line in a country that has so much to offer.”
The protests are driven by a lack of jobs and opportunities as well as rampant stories of government corruption.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham released a statement Sunday calling on other countries to support new elections to create a “better future for the Iraqi people.”
“Despite being targeted with lethal violence and denied access to the Internet, the Iraqi people have made their voices heard, calling for elections and elections reforms,” Grisham said.
Iraq lived under the rule of dictator Saddam Hussein for decades until the regime was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The United States helped establish the current political system, which divides government branches and top official positions with a quota system based on ethnic and religious affiliations.
Protesters contend that the ruling elite have enriched themselves on Iraq’s oil while the masses live in poverty.