Sunday, March 13, 2011
By Tony Iltis
Thousands of protesters took to the streets across Iraq on March 4, defying a curfew and repression to demand democracy and economic justice, the March 5 Los Angeles Times said.
The protests followed the February 25 “Day of Rage”, in which demonstrations occurred in at least 17 separate cities and towns. At least nine protests were killed by security forces, the February 26 Sydney Morning Herald said.
During the “Day of Rage”, soldiers guarding the bridge to Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone were pelted with shoes. 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.
For weeks, ongoing protests have hit Iraq — demanding the democracy supposedly brought by the US-led occupation and against terrible social conditions Iraqis have faced since the 2003 invasion.
Predictably, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has blamed al-Qaeda and supporters of Saddam Hussain for the protests.
However, Samir Adil, the president of the Iraq Freedom Congress (IFC) — one of the groups behind the protests — painted a different picture.
Adil told Green Left Weekly: “Many groups, especially leftist organisations, organised the protests.”
Adil said: “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 haven’t gotten anything: no stability, no security. There has been the killing of more than 2 million people during these years, with 4 million refugees inside and outside Iraq.
“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.
“We have thousands in prison. Every day, there are kidnappings, assassinations and executions.”
Adil told GLW 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.
“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 — boycotted the election because they said we don’t see a party that represents our interests [rather than promoting] sectarian or ethnic divisions.”
Iraq has been dominated by religious sectarian militias since the 2003 invasion. “Since 2003, many, many militias were formed in Iraq,” Adil said. “Different kinds of Shi’a militias, different kinds of Sunni militias …
“Some of the Shi’a militia went into the interior ministry, others into the defence ministry.
“Now the society is under the control of militias.
“This is a fake government. If you go to south Iraq, there’s a different law to middle Iraq, which is different to north 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 sectarian divisions and domination by militias was the result of deliberate US policy.
“We didn’t have this problem before the occupation,” he said.Adil was a staunch opponent of Saddam Hussein. “I’m one of the people who worked against Saddam’s government. I was in jail in 1992, where they tortured me. But Saddam’s government wasn’t a sectarian government.
“Saddam would torture and deny freedom to people equally. There was no Sunni or Shi’a division.
“The first government established by [US official put in charge of post-invasion Iraq] Paul Bremmer, called the governing council and said: ‘You are Shi’a, you are Sunni, you are Kurdish, you are Turcoman’.
“This was the first state to divide Iraqi society this way. But, because the history of Iraqi society is a secular history, they couldn’t transfer this division to the social conditions in Iraq.
“Even now, it never happens 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 a 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 Kosovo.
“Now that this kind of poison has been put in our society, if it is not removed quickly it’s going to infect society.
“For that reason, we are working hard day by day. Because of this, 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’. We mobilised people around this slogan and we established a safety force.
“Because of this, the occupation forces attacked our offices many times and assassinated the leader of the safety force.”
The dire economic 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”, Adil said. “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 militias.
“There is a lack of social services and of clean water. We have just one-to-two hours of electricity per day.
“We have an unemployment rate of 28%. This is the official government statistic — I believe it is higher.
“We now have an illiteracy rate of 25%. In the 1980s, there was no illiteracy in Iraq.
“There are mountains of garbage [on the streets].
“The incidence of cancer is phenomenal in our society, because US forces have attacked the Iraqi people at two different times with depleted uranium.
“The first was in the 1991 Gulf War and the second during the 2003 invasion. 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.
“We have a lack of medical care and medicine. Plus, they use depleted uranium and there is no clean water. There is also 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 said. “They bring the International Monetary Fund [IMF] 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 organise your own group or trade union in the public sector.
“Four years ago, a front was established by the IFC, leaders of the oil workers’ union and other sectors against the draft oil and gas law. We successfully stopped this draft law.
“The minister of oil took a decision to capture our leaders. But we launched a big international campaign, inside and outside Iraq, which stopped this.
“But now there are many companies [in Iraq], such as BP, Halliburton and others. They want everything to be under their control.
“Now we are struggling and mobilising people to face these economic projects in Iraq.”
When the protests started on February 11, the IFC received threats. “These demonstrations are shaking the government and now it is threatening the demonstration with its militia. They said if you go to this demonstration we’re going to kidnap you and attack the demonstration.
“These threats did not come from government officials, but from the militias that belong to the parties in 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 told 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 church bombing on October 31, 2010.
“It is not al-Qaeda,” he said. “This is the government propaganda, educated by the US administration.”
“I don’t 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. And before that, they attacked the Sunni.
“They want to send a message. This message is to scare people and impose their rule on society.”
From GLW issue 872