A file photo of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki speaks to the press in Baghdad Image Credit: AP

The joke doing the rounds in Iraq today is that if political bloc members had it their way, Friday would be abolished as a day so that no one could demonstrate against them.

The unrest in the region is giving Iraq's rulers plenty to worry about. A statement released by a number of Iraqi political groups and civil society organisations recently, has called upon intellectuals, unemployed people, widows and orphans to come together in a broad demonstration in central Baghdad's Liberation Square today — a Friday.

Some of the groups have already given the proposed demonstration the eerie title of the ‘Iraqi Rage Revolution', to be launched "for change, freedom and democracy", reminding many Iraqis of days bygone and bringing back painful memories of Baath rule.

Organisers have asked demonstrators to carry banners and placards bearing slogans such as ‘We have been silent long enough', ‘Our patience is running out' and ‘We carry $100 billion as oil and religious tourism revenues, while we eat onions, if available'.

The demonstration has essentially been called to show the government that Iraqis have had enough of corruption, power shortages, rusting and mostly non-existent infrastructure, unemployment, and a total disregard by the government that promised them everything during the elections of March 2010. A mini revolution is bubbling in Iraq and on the internet as well. Text messages flooded cell phones in the country and abroad calling for the demonstration.

Amidst all the preparations, the government was non-committal until last week, when Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki stepped in calmly and completely out of character to take matters into his hands.

To those who do not know Al Maliki well, he comes across as a cold and stubborn person who is slow in taking decisions. However, when he makes up his mind, he barges in, surprising both allies and foes.

Al Maliki acted in a similar manner back in 2007, when he led an Iraqi force into Basra, surprising everyone there with the military operation he called "The Charge of Knights".

However, this time, Al Maliki acted as a statesman and met with tribal chiefs in Basra.

He told them that it was scandalous Iraqis should face shortages in electricity and receive food supplies through ration tickets despite the country's vast oil resources.

He blamed the former regime for putting Iraq in this situation, referring to debts to other countries and the UN Chapter 7 as unresolved issues.

In his speech, Al Maliki pledged that this year shall see fundamental changes in Iraq as a result of increasesd oil and gas exports. He also promised that immediate steps will be taken in way of enhancing food supplies, and that within the year, jobs will be created.

Sure enough, Iraqis were contacted on Wednesday asking them to collect their food rations from suppliers. Al Maliki was candid enough to admit that power shortages will need another year and a half to be resolved.

In my view, Al Maliki touched a vital chord in the Iraqi psyche when he casually talked about the former Baath regime.

He reminded everyone of the difficulties faced by Iraqis during the days of the former regime before he moved to the topic of the demonstration. He told his audience that people have a constitutional right to express their demands peacefully, but that he hoped the demonstration will not be hijacked by elements that want to take Iraq back to square one, when sectarian strife and daily killings of innocent Iraqis was the norm.

Al Maliki acted swiftly in defusing the people's rage. He was successful because of a number of factors. First, Iraqis are not ready to have the Baath party return to rule the country under any name, and Al Maliki played the Baathist card by reminding people of the days when writing one sentence against the official government and party line could cost the writer his or her life.

He was also quick in accepting the demands of the people by meeting with the Sadrists, who announced that they will distribute a questionnaire to all their followers, asking them to outline their requirements, and will give the government six months to start implementing reforms to create a better standard of living.

Al Maliki also met a delegation from the Iraqi Journalists Union and promised them the ‘Freedom of Speech' law within a week. He gave all journalists registered in the union pieces of land, something most Iraqis need.

In a striking move, Al Maliki has ordered all government departments to work today, as a precautionary measure against lawlessness. Al Maliki has learnt its lesson. For the first time in five years, he has come out of his shell and acted as a leader. He knew where to strike and if he continues in this manner, Iraq will have a future to talk about.

The government's poor performance and corruption issues need to be addressed by Al Maliki's government. The prime minister gave his word, and he needs to keep it this time.