Analyses, in both Western and Arab discourses, of Iraq’s ongoing protests against corruption and ‘sectarian quotas’ tend to be inflected with an elite-sectarian framework. This framework foregrounds sect-based identities and their manipulation by elite actors and institutions in its explanations of these mobilisations. Consequently, political protest in Iraq is rarely seen as indicative of participatory, integrative and democratic practice; but rather as a performative dimension of elite power struggles (in this case within the broad Shi’i political bloc). These protests, it is argued, are a Shi’i phenomenon called into being and directed by Muqtada al-Sadr as part of a political strategy within this elite-level struggle for power. Without denying the relevance of such factors, it is possible to consider what is crowded out of our understanding as a result of this narrow focus. Most obvious is the role of Iraqi civil society, activists, and the Iraqi public sphere, all of which have played a part in the protest movement that is rarely recognised or commented upon.