Iraq: Demonstrations rock government

Anti-government demonstrations were held in dozens of towns and cities across Iraq during February and continued into March. Thousands of people took to the streets and occupied buildings, demanding better services, clean water and electricity, more jobs and the dismissal of corrupt politicians and officials.

In Suleimaniyah in the Kurdish north, nine people were killed and 47 injured when the local militia fired on a crowd of more than 3,000 besieging the headquarters of Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. Iraqi security forces also had to defend the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is led by Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. Protests continued every day, causing the local government to impose a night time curfew. In Kut three people were killed in clashes with police while demonstrating against the US occupation and Iraqi Prime Minister Al Maliki. In Basra hundreds of protestors erected tents outside government buildings, while in Fallujah demonstrators carried banners reading, ‘No for sectarianism, yes for unity, down with Al Maliki’s government.’ In Sadr City, the poor working class area of Baghdad, posters read, ‘We voted for you, where are your promises?’ The Iraqi army tried to force demonstrators to leave Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and established checkpoints to identify protesters.

These early demonstrations led to the call for ‘A Day of Rage’ on 25 February. Clearly worried by developments, the Iraqi Speaker, Osama Al Nujaifi suspended parliament for a week, saying MPs should visit their constituencies. Al Maliki announced he was taking a 50% pay cut and delaying the purchase of 18 US jets to provide food for the poor. He tried to blame the protests on ‘Saddamists, terrorists and Al Qaida’. Ayatollah Ali Sistani, leader of one of the main Shia parties, also used scare tactics to deter the protesters. Moqtada Al Sadr, the Shia leader who once implacably opposed both the occupation and Al Maliki’s government, called for the demonstrations to be postponed for six months, saying participation would justify a crackdown. Just a week earlier he had called on a million of his supporters to join the protests. Moqtada now spends most of his time in Iran. Zaid Al Ali, a UN legal advisor, said the Shia leaders’ opposition to the demonstrations, ‘was a huge break for Al Maliki. There is a lot of fear among politicians in Iraq about what is going to happen’.

On the Day of Rage Al Maliki ordered a traffic ban in Baghdad, Mosul and Samarra. The Iraqi army tried to lock-down Baghdad and the airport was closed. Nevertheless, around 5,000 demonstrators marched from Tahrir Square to the Green Zone where Iraqi government and US offices are protected by high security. The police attacked demonstrators and tried to intimidate them with helicopters. Demonstrations took place in at least 16 other cities. Altogether, 29 protestors were killed.

Over the next few days Iraqi police raided journalists’ offices, closed an independent radio station and detained 300 leading intellectuals involved in the protests. The offices of the Iraqi Communist Party and the Iraqi Nation Party were closed down.

Prime Minister Al Maliki is increasingly seizing personal power. He can now place his own nominees in control of the central bank and many other agencies. A report by Human Rights Watch said, ‘Eight years after the invasion, life is actually getting worse for women and minorities. Forced marriages, forced prostitution, domestic and sexual abuse have all risen sharply in the years since the invasion. The US still routinely transfers prisoners to Iraqi detention knowing they are likely to be tortured.’ Salam Al Segar, one of the demonstrators said, ‘Al Maliki is starting to act like Saddam, to use the same fear, to plant it inside Iraqis who criticise him.’ Far from the ‘modern democratic state’ it promised, the imperialist occupation has wrought greater corruption and oppression.

Jim Craven

Victory to the Iraqi people!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011


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