From simple calls for basic amenities - access to potable water, electricity and medicine Iraqis have broadened their cries for a better life to ask for a complete revamp of the nation’s political institutions.

If Iraq’s current winter of discontent can be boiled down to the government’s chronic failure to address its people’s most basic needs, nevermind tales of corruption and institutionalised bribery, popular anger stands to explode the region’s intricate geopolitical balance of power.

Iraq is facing yet another turning point in its difficult history. And though few could have predicted the force and speed with which protesters mobilised against state officials to demand that they’d be held accountable for their crimes, Iraq’s troubles were always too many and too great for the dam not to break.

The issue is not just political … for decades Iraq has been weighed down by overlapping and opposing ambitions - those of its political class, its tribes, its various religious factions and most prominently those regional powers which more often than not have acted as proxies to greater powers still.

Iraq is our modern-day Coliseum, together a socio-political experiment and a grand regional prize for whoever will hack its seat of power. Only this time around Iraqis are keen to reclaim their sovereignty and at last shape a future they can see themselves in, unburdened by America’s failure in helping draft a functional constitution and Iran’s abuses of the aforementioned flawed system.

A refreshing ambition if we keep in mind that for decades the nation has specifically and almost exclusively catered to its ruling elite’s particular religious and ethnic idiosyncrasies to the detriment of all others. Since its inception as a state Iraq was never able to fully embrace its diversity - there lies its biggest failure to date. A failure it seems the Iraqi youth very much intends to redress.

And though the fight protesters took on seems insurmountable - corruption has indeed become the norm rather than the exception, it would be foolish to underestimate the power Iraqis wield by virtue of their rejection of the state now that they stand united. As the French hold: vox populi, vox dei [the voice of the people is the voice of God].

But Baghdad is not in a listening mood. Rather than engage its disenfranchised youth Baghdad has chosen violence to act a grand silencer - that and random internet blackouts to hamper communication and avoid social media’s leaks.

Since Oct. 1 a reported 319 people have been killed and at least 8,000 injured says the United Nations.

State violence has only served to sharpen protesters’ resolve.

Politicians may soon wish they had heeded those cries let out in the deep south where electricity and clean water were denied to the masses. As it were, revolutions are almost always written by the down-trodden … to discount them is folly, to offer them the sword instead of their rights could prove suicidal. Interestingly enough, and maybe most telling of all has been the protests demographic. So far, majority Sunni and Kurdis provinces have stayed out of the fray, putting an interesting question mark over the nature of the uprising.

But Iraq is not yet in a state of revolution. It doesn’t mean that it won’t be, especially if state officials insist on keeping up with their old habits - that is to bribe, embezzle and trade favours to advance both their careers and their bottom lines.
The remnants of a system which is not only antiquated but contrary to any real demogratic progress, Iraq’s leading class will need to reinvent itself anew if it is to survive what comes next.

Plagued by the litany of unaddressed trauma and socio-political fallouts the past decade brought the war-torn nation Iraq has become ground zero for great many competing powers, political ideologies, and hegemonic ambitions. At some point or another Iraq’s troubles were bound to catch up with its leading class … how the state will manage the storm will define Iraq’s future, and most likely that of the region, at least as far as determining the geopolitical pecking order goes.

There lies the crux of the matter. Let us set aside for a moment officials inept approach to governance, let us also forget the many divisions which still haunt Iraq’s national unity by way of sectarianism and xenophobia. It is Iraq’s co-dependent relationship with both Iran and the United States which ultimately cast a shadow over the nation’s future and has fuelled popular unrest.

To put it plainly many Iraqis are rather fed up with Iran’s perceived diktat and America’s geopolitical opportunism.

Iraq’s political friendships these days feel a little too dysfunctional for Iraqis to keep mum. From the contempt shown by several Iran-backed militias (operating under the umbrella of the PMU) for the rule of law, state officials’ insistence to often place Iran’s economic interests above that of the people, to America’s contempt for Iraq’s sovereignty by way of economic blackmail protesters want to do away with the old status quo.

Unknown to most is America’s hold over Iraq’s financial future. Every year Iraq is required to obtain a signed guarantee from the White House that its assets will be protected from any and all court actions relating to the abuses committed under the former regime. Should Baghdad irks Washington, it would leave itself open for a deluge of court proceedings and more likely than not billions in liabilities.

Iraqis’ anger towards Iran has been such in fact that the Iranian consulate in both Najaf and Karbala were torched - the significance of such a move in those particular cities is not to be discounted lightly, but in fact reflects a clear rejection of Iran’s system of governance: wilayat al faqih (governance of the jurist) deep in Shia territory, as well as Tehran’s perceived interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.

If Iran remains one of Iraq’s most strategic regional partners, much of the good will Tehran acquired helping defeat ISIS is fast disintegrating. Protesters in their tens of thousands have now called for the ‘pictures’ to be taken down - meaning for the images of Iran’s Ayatollahs to be removed from Iraq’s streets, buildings and religious sites.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s November remark that Baghdad ought to exercise strength to quell the budding uprising sparked nationwide outrage, prompting many to wonder just how much influence Iran feels entitled to in Iraq.

Entered onto the scene the most unlikely of protagonist: Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Arguably Iraq’s most senior and prominent cleric, the Grand Ayatollah wields almost unparallelled power within the Shia Islamic world. It is often said that one stroke of his pen could rewrite the course of History.

Today he has used this pen to defend Iraqis’ right to self-governance, calling on the government to diligently reform its laws so as to reflect the legitimate wishes of the people all the while reaffirming Iraq’s sovereignty away from foreign hands.

In a Friday prayers sermon read by his representative in the city of Najaf, Ayatollah Sistani in late November denounced the violence against protesters and called on Iraq's parliament to "reconsider its choices" in supporting the current government of Prime Minister Mahdi. He urged lawmakers to expedite the approval of a package of electoral laws in preparation for new elections.

His intervention may just have averted a catastrophe … should he had not intervene it is likely Iraq would have disintegrated along the many lines of its contrarian alliances and loyalties. In a country such as that, where tribal ties overlap religious affiliations and politics, tensions can quickly escalate.

For lack of a better word Ayatollah Sistani helped create a space in which Iraq could negotiate a compromise with its ruling class and redefine its relationship with its powerful neighbours and partners.

How this opportunity is seized very much depends on actors’ desire to promote reason over belligerence.