Thousands of Iraqis did indeed turn out today, all across the country (in Basra, in Baghdad, in Mosul, and elsewhere), to demonstrate, mostly against the Maliki government's continuing inability to provide basic services (everything from safe drinking water to electricity) - but as the WaPo report notes, there were some voices crying out for Maliki himself to step down. At this point, there's not much chance of that happening. After all, he was indeed elected by a legitimate ballot-vote, and he has powerful (though sometimes fickle) allies (like Muqtada al-Sadr) to bolster him. But, for me, two things stand out:
- A number of people have been killed - anywhere from 5 (according to the BBC account) to as many as 13 (according to WaPo) - none of them, apparently, by "terrorists" affiliated with al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq, or Baathist/Saddamist types. The reports I've read don't specify, but the deaths seem to have come at the hands of government security forces.
- Maliki took extraordinary measures to prevent protesters from congregating in Baghdad, imposing strict curfew and flooding the city with thousands of soldiers. What I see in that is (1) his readiness to brandish and come down with an iron fist if necessary to quell dissent; (2) his awareness - and fear - that as long as basic economic demands are not being met, his regime will be walking the knife's edge. And the more protesters killed by Maliki's enforcers, the more outcry, and the more vengeance required.
And . . . the regime will be walking that knife's edge at a time when the US troops that for so long kept him propped up, are on the way out. To impose security, he will need to rely on his own security forces. They number in the hundreds of thousands; they are increasingly well-trained; they are not averse to using torture to impose their will; but they are also riven by internal divisions and disorganization (as the ICG report of a few months ago documented quite copiously, much of it due to the fact that they comprise the former militias of diverse Shii parties (especially ISCI and al-Da'wa) that have not always played well together.