Protesters chant anti-Iraqi government slogans during a protest at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, on February 25, 2011. Thousands of demonstrators converged on central Baghdad as part of an anti-government rally inspired by uprisings across the Middle East and dubbed the "Day of Rage". Photo: Karim Kadim / AP.
By Tony Iltis
February 26, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly -- Thousands of protesters, in at least 17 separate cities and towns across Iraq, took part in a “Day of Rage” on February 25 to demand democracy. They faced severe repression, including a “vehicle curfew” and the killing by security forces of at least 23 protesters, according to the February 25 Washington Post. Soldiers guarding the bridge to Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone were pelted with shoes, the February 26 Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The Green Zone is home to Iraq's official government and the real source of power in the country: the US embassy and the main US military base.
In the southern city of Basra, a 4000-strong crowd demanded, and achieved, the resignation of the provincial governor Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi, Al Jazeera reported on February 25.
The Day of Rage comes two weeks into a campaign of mass demonstrations aimed at bringing democracy to Iraq, ironically something the bloody US-led invasion and occupation has claimed to have already done. The demonstrations are also protesting the deterioration of social conditions since the invasion.
Predictably puppet prime minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed al Qaeda and supporters of Saddam Hussain.
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“Many organisations, especially leftist organisations, organised [the Day of Rage]”, Samir Adil, president of the Iraq Freedom Congress (FIC), one of the groups behind the protests, told Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and Green Left Weekly.
“The IFC was established on March 19, 2005. The main goal of this organisation is to end the occupation and establish secular, non-sectarian government defining the Iraqi people by human identity.
"On February 11 we started demonstrations saying: we don’t want this government. After eight years we didn’t get anything: no stability, no security, the killing of more than 2 million people during these years, 4 million refugees inside and outside Iraq.
“For eight years the US administration promised the Iraqi people the sky will rain democracy and prosperity. Well, after eight years we have nothing. There is no democracy. The democracy’s just inside the militias, inside the pro-US organisations. This is the whole situation in Iraq, unfortunately there is a blackout of media, especially in the West.
“There is no security in Iraq. There is no freedom. We have thousands and thousands in the prisons. There is every day many assassinations and executions, many kidnappings.”
Adil said that the protests were inspired by the upsurge of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.
“The issues affecting Tunisia and Egypt also affect our society. That is why we started these demonstrations on February 11. But the situation in Iraq is different from Tunisia, because in Tunisia and Egypt there is a government, there is a state, there is a system of law. Even if you reject this law, there is a government you can fight with. But in Iraq, you don’t have a government, you have militias.
“At the last election the majority of people — opposite to what was said in the propaganda of the Western media — the majority boycotted the election because they said we don’t see a party that represents our interests [rather than promomting] sectarian or ethnic divisions.”
Iraq has been dominated by religious sectarian militias since the US-led invasion in 2003. “Since 2003, many, many militias were formed in Iraq”, Adil explained. “Different kinds of Shi’a militias, different kinds of Sunni militias… Some of the Shi’a militia went into the Ministry of the Interior, and others went into the Ministry of Defence. Now the society is under the control of militias. There is no government. There is no state.
“After 2003, after the war destroyed everything there is no state or government. This is a fake government. For example if you go to the south of Iraq, there’s a different law to the middle of Iraq. In the middle of Iraq there’s a different law to the north of Iraq. In the west there’s a different law. Every party has control in some area and all of it is controlled by militias.”
Adil said that the sectarian divisions and resulting domination by militias is the result of deliberate US policy. "We hadn’t this problem before the occupation”, he said and added that he wasn’t trying to prettify the previous regime.
“I’m one of the people who worked against Saddam’s government. I was in jail in 1992 where they tortured me. Now, my left hand cannot move very well because [of] this torture. But Saddam’s government wasn’t a sectarian government. He would torture and deny freedom to people equally. There was no Sunni or Shi’a.
‘No Sunni, no Shi’a, we are all human’
“But the occupation created this issue, and created [religious-based] parties to give legitimacy to the war and the occupation of Iraq, and imposed this kind of political process on Iraq.
“The first [occupation] government established by Paul Bremmer, called the governing council, said: ‘You are Shi’a, you are Sunni, you are Kurdish, you are Turcoman’, this is the first state to divide the society this way. But, because the history of Iraqi society is a secular history … they couldn’t transfer this kind of division to the social conditions in Iraq.
“Even in February 2006 after the explosion at the [Shi’a] holy places in Samarra and the militias attacked innocent people, the militias kill you because your name is Sunni or your name is Shi’a but until now it has never happened that neighbours kill each other.
“The opposite has happened: neighbours protect each other. Those same militias attacked workplaces to spread this division but they failed because Iraqi society has this history of secularism.
“But I can’t give a guarantee. If the situation continues there’s no guarantee that it will not become like Lebanon or Kosova. Now this kind of poison has been put in our society, if this poison is not removed quickly it’s going to infect the society.
“For that reason we are working hard day by day and because of that our organisation is threatened by the militias and the government. In 2006 we raised the slogan: ‘No Sunni, no Shi’a, we are all human’ and we mobilised people around this slogan and we established a safety force. Because of that the occupation forces attack our offices many times and assassinated the leader of the safety force.”
The protests sweeping the Arab world are the result of dire economic conditions — poverty, unemployment and lack of education and other services — as well as the lack of democracy. However, the conditions created by the invasion and occupation in Iraq are far worse than what exists in most other Arab countries.
“Many people cannot go to university. One problem is that there is no income for most people. The second problem is no security [because] the occupation divided society into a sectarian society … some people cannot go to university because they are scared of the militia and kidnapping,” Adil told Links and GLW.
“There is a lack of social services. There is a lack of clean water. We have just one to two hours of electricity a day. We have 28% unemployment. This is the statistic of the official government — I believe that there is more than this. But even 28% is a huge number. We have now in Iraq more than 25% illiteracy. In the 1980s there was no illiteracy in Iraq.
“There are mountains of garbage. If you go to Baghdad or the south of Iraq or the north … you never see a clean building … just mountains of garbage.
“The incidence of cancer is phenomenal in our society because there were two times that the US forces attacked the Iraqi people with depleted uranium. The first was in the Second Gulf War in 1991 and second in the Third Gulf War in 2003. If you go to the south of Iraq, especially Basra City, many, many people have got cancer. Iraq is now the worst country in the Middle East for this disease, it’s affecting the society.
“We have a lack of medical care and medicine. Plus, they use depleted uranium. Plus there is no clean water. Plus there is pollution. All of this has increased the number of people who get this kind of disease.”
Western economic interests are responsible for much of the injustice that is fuelling protests across the Arab world. In occupied Iraq this connection is very clear.
“The US occupation destroyed everything [but] they have many economic projects”, Adil explained. “They bring the IMF [International Monetary Fund] to Iraq, even though Iraq is a rich country from oil. Two years ago we had a US$50 billion budget surplus but the government is going to take a $3.6 billion loan from the IMF. This is the US project: they want to create a ‘free market’ in Iraq, they want privatisation.
“Now in the public sector there is no freedom of trade unions. There is no freedom to demonstrate or strike. No freedom to sit-in. There is no freedom to make your own organisation or trade union. Four years ago, a front against the draft oil and gas law was established by the IFC and leaders of the oil workers’ union and other sectors and we successfully stopped this draft law.
“The minister of oil took a decision to capture our leaders, including Hasan Jum’a, Faleh Abood [and others], but we launched a big international campaign, inside and outside Iraq that stopped this decision.
"But now there are many companies like BP in the south of Iraq, like Halliburton and others. Everything they want to be under their control. Now we are struggling and mobilising people to face these economic projects in Iraq.”
Threats from US-backed terror groups
When the protests started on February 11, the IFC received threats. “This demonstration is shaking the government and now they are threatening the demonstration with its militia, saying if you go to this demonstration we’re going to kidnap you and attack the demonstration”, Adil said. “These threats did not come from government officials, they came from the militias that belong to the parties in the government.”
Adil was concerned that the protests could become the target of government-instigated terrorist attacks.
“I called our comrades and said, ‘Be careful, maybe they’ll send you a car bomb, and they’ll kill many people and say this is al-Qaeda. Or maybe they’ll shoot you and say this is al Qaeda or some other people’”, he said.
Adil told Links and GLW that most of the violence attributed to shadowy terrorist groups was either carried out or facilitated by the pro-US militias who run Iraq. He cited the October 31, 2010, church bombing. “It is not al Qaeda. This is the government propaganda, educated by the US administration. I don’t want to defend al Qaeda, which is a symbol of the criminal underworld. But in Iraq, al Qaeda failed.
“This is the militias — especially those of parties in the government. They give the chance to groups like al Qaeda to do those kinds of crimes. There is a hegemonic project in Iraq to impose this kind of sectarian division. For that reason they attacked the church, attacked the Christian people. Before that they attacked the Shi’a. Before they attacked the Sunni.
“Now they attack the Christian people. They want to send a message. This message is to scare people and impose their rule on society. A Qaeda could do this sort of crime without help from the militias.”
Adil concluded with a call for solidarity. "Our strategy to bring stability and security to Iraq, to introduce secular government and end the occupation cannot be successful without support on the international front. I take this opportunity to ask for support for our movement in Iraq because we believe that if we defeat the US projects in Iraq, this is a victory for our movement in Australia too."