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Friends keep asking for comments on the continuous popular protests in the Iraqi southern provinces.
It feels unsafe for activists in the Iraqi Anti-Occupation movement to give a worthy account of events on the ground. Less so to analyze their significance and potential beyond recognizing that a huge psychological shift is underway amongst the youth. That is a shift within communities that have been subdued and well-controlled over the years since the occupation in 2003. The control was exercised by Iran-linked fractious sectarian parties working within localized uneasy joint US-Iran stewardship.
Trickle-down corruption of the war-lords’ variety since 2003 controlling nearly about 800 Billion dollars of oil income since then had created a social base for the new colonial set-up through phantom government jobs, pensions, and compensations. This fragile social base of a few million households is wider in the south of the country and in the Kurdish region. That is because Baghdad and the central provinces were the hotbeds for resistance after the invasion in 2003 up to 2010, so suffered the US counter-insurgency regime followed by the civil war manufactured through black ops, followed by prolonged peaceful protests followed by ISIS terrorism, promoted or genuine, then by the total demolition of cities.
The neo-colonial sectarian-based joint custodianship regime presided not only over dismantling the Iraqi state but also over ensuring the destruction and prevention of productive capacity in the country apart from the pumping of crude oil. This applied to lack of electricity despite the $40 billion officially spent, and lack of water treatment, the two demands that started the protests. But also to all industry, agriculture, transport, education and health services.
Back to understanding the protests, and why most anti-occupation activists are reluctant to comment. Here are some of the reasons:
* The legacy of worry about the sources of information from the experience of the Syrian and other risings of 2011.
* No leadership has emerged, perhaps wisely considering the danger of liquidation of activists. No one is prepared to endanger activists they know or can contact from abroad anyway.
* Protests in Baghdad have been largely silenced through the ultra-opportunistic Sadrist movement. The Basrah main protest is also being stifled, with sites of protests gradually shifting to smaller towns, perhaps wherever the militia rule is weakest, but also where fewer contacts are available.
* The near certainty that some of the protests are used in the in-between manoeuvrings of the ruling parties, militias, the feuding tribes, and the corrupt clerics allied to various parties.
* The claims that Iranian-linked groups had traditionally to use the protests to threaten Iraqi oil production as part of the current battle with the US.
* The claims that the anti-Iranian bent is Saudi or US- supported, even though it may be a genuine popular development with a potential for the revival of Iraqi nationalism and Arab nationalism. At the same time, sane people remain of the view that the real enemy is the US rather than Iran, even though Iran is messing up the country for its own reasons.
Anti-occupation activists are not able to navigate these murky waters, so remain only able to offer views from geopolitical angles or from known patriotic commentators.
Mundher al- Adhami is an Iraqi academic.