• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Protests in Iraq

There has been sporadic local protests in Southern provinces for the last three years, continuation of the first round of mass protests in 2011 which was violently suppressed.  The local protests involves demonstrations in front of local government offices, blocking public roads, vigils at entrances to oil company and port facilities in Fao, Um Qasr and Ma’aqal. There is a long list of grievances, general and local people complain about, mixed with political tribal rivalries, with trade unions curiously not prominent.

Friday 17 July in Madeyna in Basra a demonstration against the electricity cuts in searing heat turned violent. There was shooting and a young demonstrator Muntadhar Al-Halfi was killed. This sparked more demonstrations in Basra, largest of which was on 31 July with slogans directed at corrupt officials. There are local rivalries between religious parties that play a role, but the demos was nonpartisan, non-sectarian, and in fact vilifies by the main political groups. This spread to other provinces through various media coordination methods.  Basra is the third largest province in Iraq, and produces 90% of the income of the Baghdad government, yet it has neither regular electricity, nor clean drinking water. Its local government is dominated by religious parties and rife with corruption.

Friday 11 September was the 7th protest Friday of protest in Basra, and the 6th in Baghdad and 8 other provincial capitals : Wasit, Babylon, Kerbala, Najaf, Qadidsia, Muthana, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.   The numbers in Baghdad are declining to the hundreds rather than thousands but in the rest of the country the momentum is maintained and the anger increases. BaghdadIya, Sharqiya,  Rafidain and Taghyeer TV channels have adopted the protest as a “revolution for reform”.  Protests at the town levels are increasing in all the provinces  including in Diyala  and Ta’amim provinces north of Baghdad.

The focus of the mass protests in the centres of cities went through phases:

* At first the focus was on electricity shortages (causing health hazards in the searing heat of summer that exceeded 50 degrees,  as well for several years now closing down 17,000 production medium and small industrial and commercial facilities by official figures) and non-payment to farmers and old state sector employees.

* The focus shifted quickly  to removing corrupt officials and punishing them, including the leadership of main political parties, especially Maliki and his cronies.  The agenda seems initially supported by the government of Prime Minister Abadi itself, and by the religious authorities who have fallen out with the Maliki –Iranian camp,  pressing the Prime Minister to remove corrupt officials. The demonstrations were protected by the riot police under command of the PM. The momentum was initially so great that the parliament unanimously passed a set of austerity measures, pruning some higher level positions.

* The focus of the slogans then moved to dismissing the parliament and the constitution and restart the political process anew, without the sectarian quota etc. The political parties started claiming infiltrations by the Ba’ath and terrorists,  withdrew their verbal support, and intimidations tactics started against activists. But the regularity of the protest drew in several disenfranchised groups of the unemployed and poor, whose numbers seem to increase, judging by the videos of many provincial demonstrations, and the illiteracy of some of the hand-made placards, compared with those raised at the start by the students and professionals.

* Several side demands are present simultaneously with the national demand to root out corruption, with people carrying placards with slogans about jobs and non-payment of salaries or compensations, and women carrying pictures of missing young men, or demanding investigations of massacres

* Political groups try to put their imprints, like the so called Democratic Civil Current, under which label spread communists and liberals of various kinds.  It does seem that many of the activists are from traditionally Left and  communist social background, whether those that accepted the shameful position of the official party in collaborating with the occupation or not.  The Najaf religious authorities were placed under pressure from the dominant slogan of “They robbed us in the name of Religion” and they supported the reform demands. The Hashd groups (formed as militias in 2013/14 loyal to the religious authorities and nominally led by the army and other militias)  tried to press for slogans against terrorists, Baathists and ISIS, which surprisingly did not hold.  There is a distinct non-sectarian and anti-sectarian flavour, and a sense that the people feel betrayed and hoodwinked by religious garbs.

* The dwindling of the Baghdad numbers seen on 11 September may be understood  by the intimidation and attacks on activists, on the political parties instructing their supporters to avoid the demonstrations, and the abandoning of the fight by those in government jobs and pensions , numbered 8 million. But judging by the increase in numbers and militancy in the provinces, the composition of the protests is shifting towards the workers and the pooer sections of the population.

* The anti-sectarian stand of demonstrations is a stark rebuff to the political system as a whole.  Even the fight against terrorism and ISIS is missing, and the slogans include placards like “Corruptions is terrorism” or “worse than terrorism”.   The big project by the religious authorities and the religious parties of building up support for the popular mobilisation  have vanished.

* The so called Sadr Current, originally  the Shi’a religious mass anti–occupation movement led by Muqtadal-Sadr,  is in a difficult position regarding the protest.  Their social base are the poor and disenfranchised groups who use its Arab-religious cover as a fence against the influence of Iran-supported groups, and the collaborationist Najaff’s  Shi’s authorities.  These masses are the natural component of the protests which made some academics call for a political Left-Sadrist alliance, ignoring the religious and cultural aspect as irrelevant.  The problem has been the pragmatist zigzagging way of its leader, Muqtada,  frequently bending to Iranian pressures at key moments to salvage sectarian political agenda, participating in sectarian killings for a period before denouncing them,  joining in the government while denouncing it.

The Sadrist Current ended up splitting into several factions the most prominent being the Maliki –loyal Iranian-funded murderous militia Asa’ibilhaq. The 40 members in the parliament sometimes act differently from its social base and its leader.  So do the local councils Sadrist groups implicated in corruption.  But the mass base, and its need for a religious cover, remains potent. It is the development at this social base level, with or without its current leadership,  joined by many other smaller Shi’a religious, urban neighbourhoods, poor countryside tribal, and destitute worker groups, that may be the key factor in what is to happens next in the Iraqi protests.

This article originally appeared in The Brussels Tribunal.

More articles by:

Mundher Al Adhami is a Researcher on cognitive and professional development at Kings College London, with a number of school textbooks, articles and manuals on advanced pedagogy for teachers of mathematics; writer on Iraqi issues in English and Arabic; member of the follow-up committee of the Arab-Islamic Conference; member of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
David Yearsley
Hard Bop and Bezos’ Balls
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail