In early October, protests erupted in Baghdad and few Iraqi cities in southern Iraq. News feeds of demonstrations, even fierce and violent in nature, are nothing new in the Middle East. They are often driven by sectarian, political or religious motivations and are sometimes encouraged by irresponsible leaders. Yet these protests were different. Young Iraqis, mostly Shiite, had started this wave of demonstrations but Sunnis took part in them as well. The protestation was aimed directly at the current Iraqi government, for failing to provide the most basic needs of the citizens of Iraq. Subsequently, protesters are now demanding new elections.
Iraqi Security forces responded harshly, causing more than a hundred fatalities and thousands of injuries. The government had shut down broadcast services and blocked all social media networks. However, individual testimonies from Iraq on social media such as WhatsUp suggest Iranian intervention. Based on eyewitness accounts and forensic findings, they claim that Pro-Iranian militia members such as Saraya Tali’at Khurasani and Iraqi Hizbullah were, in fact, shooting the demonstrators, and hit even some Iraqi soldiers.
Both International and Arab media organizations paid little attention to the unfolding strife, though it bears not only a heavy price in human life but also a real threat to the political stability of Iraq as a state.
The demonstrations and the government’s inability to quell them or to deal with their root causes are listed in red under the name of the current prime minister. Abd al-Mahdi is a veteran Shiite politician who came to power in October 2018 as a compromise candidate. He was expected to overcome the sectarian conflicts and to unify all ethnic and religious groups; be they Kurds, Shiite or Sunni, and pull them all towards new national policies, both economic and foreign. This, in view of the ongoing confrontation between Iran and the United States (and Israel), which takes place on and above Iraqi soil though Iraq would have certainly chosen to have them fought elsewhere. His ineptitude in coping with the protesters indicates not only his government’s weakness but also provides visual evidence of his overall failed policies, including the much needed and talked about reform that would overcome the country’s chief malaise, namely corruption.
Iraq has all the tenets of a rich country. However, since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in March 2003, this oil-rich country failed to deal with its infrastructure inefficiencies and was unable to maintain sustainable governance in order to meet the needs of its population such as the regular supply of water and electricity.
It is estimated that since 2003 Iraq’s oil-based income reached the level of 450 billion dollars. Yet these revenues did not reach the citizenry. They were rather dispersed among contractors and senior bureaucrats with very deep pockets. Some would say that this corruption has reached the Justice System as well as the Military.
Even though the Iraqi media and social networks are gagged, people outside Iraq could not remain silent at the horror of over a hundred police-inflicted fatalities in seven days. Here is a message of empathy coming from Israel. Linda Menuhin Abdel-Aziz is an Iraqi born Israeli journalist. Her father, Yaakub Abdel-Aziz, was abducted by the regime and was presumably murdered in 1972. In recent years she has been corresponding with fellow Iraqis via social media, following the release of her story in the documentary Shadow in Baghdad. Here is a post she issued on 6 October and has since done the rounds of the Middle East, as well as among Iraqis all over the globe (see translation below).
اخواني واخواتي العراقيين قلوبنا معكم
قررت كسر الصمت لاقول لكم باسمي وباسم العديد من يهود العراق في العالم اننا نستنكر اعمال البطش والعنف ضد الابرياء المسالمين في العراق وسيما الشبيبة منهم الذين هم اكثر ما احوج اليه الارتزاق بكرامة وبناء مستقبل جديد. وهذا المشهد يذكرنا بالفترة الحالكة التي عشناها تحت حكم البعث عندما تعرضنا نحن اليهود الفقرة الضعيفة في النسيج العراقي لتهم باطلة انتهت بالاعدامات واختطاف العديد واغتيالهم.
.آن الأوان لنبذ ثقافة العنف والموت واحترام حقوق الفرد ليخرج العراق من هذه الدوامة.
To my Iraqi brothers and sisters, our hearts go out for you.
You have decided to break my silence in order to say in my name and in the name if many Iraqi Jews around the world that we protest against acts of violence and killing of innocent, peaceful civilians, especially the youth who need badly to make a decent living and build a new future. These scenes remind us of the dark period that we lived under the Baath regime when we, as Jews, were the weak chain in the Iraqi fabric and were exposed to baseless accusations that led to hangings , kidnapping, and killing of so many of us.
It is time to renounce the culture of violence and death and show respect to human rights in order to enable Iraq to break away out of this vicious circle.