Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Facing Protests, Iraq's Democracy Looks More Authoritarian

By: Ali Rawaf
Iraqi Forces surrounding Tahrir Square, where Iraqis protested poor services and high unemployment

Iraq, a democracy where elections were almost free and fair, didn’t treat its protestors any better than the rest of the authoritarian regimes in the region. The government took quick and violent actions to prevent Iraq’s protests from gaining momentum.

Since the inception of the protests, Maliki branded the activists who organized the protests as Baathists and member of al-Qaeda who were looking for opportunities to bring down the Iraqi government, despite repeated declarations that the protests were aimed at improving basic services and unemployment, not at removing the current government. This move, previously employed against political opponents, discouraged many people from voicing their discontent in the protests.  Another fear-mongering announcement from Maliki’s office was humorous. In it, Maliki predicted that terrorists dressed in police uniforms will beat the protestors so people should be cautious.

On the eve of the protest, a curfew was imposed by the Prime Minister’s office (The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces) until further notice. On the day of the protests, many of Iraq’s Sunni provinces had imposed curfews. Despite the curfew, people marched down the streets and expressed their anger with the current status of services and employment.

Freedom of the press, a constitutional right, was violated as well. Iraqi and foreign TV networks weren’t allowed to cover the protests live, therefore, people wouldn’t be encouraged to come join the protests after watching them on TV.

Journalists who were on the grounds of the protests were beaten, humiliated, and imprisoned by the Iraqi Army and police forces. Journalists, who were freed later, said they had seen leaders of civil society groups, actors, activists, and local civilians imprisoned and beaten by the Iraqi forces.

The protestors themselves were hosed with water cannons, beaten, and imprisoned.

The central government and Parliament found a way of diverting the blame onto local governments instead of taking responsibility for the shortcomings in their performance for the past years. Governors of two provinces had resigned and a few other governors are expected to do the same soon.  

To appease the protestors, Maliki and the parliament, cut their salaries by 20%, though originally intended to cut 50%. They also promised to give more food aid for the poor, place a halt on a newly approved import tax, and to improve basic services within a 100 days. Critics are skeptical  that such promises will be fulfilled.

If I could draw one main theme of the protests, it would be regret. Iraqis risked their lives on March 7th 2010 to vote for a new government. A year later, that government hasn’t been formed completely, with key ministries such as the Interior and Defense still vacant. The very little faith Iraqis had that the past election cycle was going to bring about change, has been lost. The picture shows an Iraqi biting his index finger, a gesture of regret in Iraqi culture. His finger is still painted purple with voting ink.


  1. Poeple are just tired of the situation. Now i don't live in Baghdad or the south regions, I live up north, I'm happy for the way things are going here, but not so happy for what's going on in the capital, the other cities, calling the activists Ba'athists is just wrong, they have the freedom to do whatever they want so long as they're not breaking the law. They have demands, they want their lives to improve, they're tired of being scared of what's gonna happen "tomorrow", you know? They want to live, these are poeple who have been subjected to torture and opperession for 30 years, and almost 6 years of killings and bombings which has almost divided them amongst themselves, they want what everyone else has in the world, they want security, they want dinner on their tables, they want their kids to go to schools without being afraid of kidnappings, they want electricity, something the government doesn't seem to be able to provide despite the money they're reportedly spending on construction and infrastructure, the living conditions in Iraq aren't fit for humans, the sewer system, well there's not a thing called a sewer system, considering Iraq is one of the richest countries in the world in Petrol and Mercury, I really don't see why 25% are living in poverty!

  2. Alan, I don't think you are being fair in comparing Iraq's north with the rest of it. In the North, Barazani's militias treated opposition parties and protesters with similar brutality as the South and Center of the country. Journalists were beaten and arrested. The cronyism in the North is similar to that in the South and Baghdad.

  3. I don't believe you have heard the whole story here, Journalists weren't arrested, nothing of the like happened here, it is just opposition propaganda, protests are happening, poeple's voices are being heard here, there might have been a few incidents, but only because those involved were of the, umm how do I say this, the bad few, some protesters started to act violently, the police responded as they saw fit, you can never compare the brutality of baghdad's central police to what happened here.
    Regarding the milita you are talking about, there's no such thing, there is however, Asayish which stands for national security forces in kurdish, and Peshmerga, which happen to be the name of what can be called military here, and they are recognized to be part of the Iraqi Army, now what you said, "Barazani's militas' is actually incorrect, first, because there are no militias and second, the forces that are under the command of Barzani have no jurisdiction in Sulaimaniyah in which the incidents have occurred.

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  5. Great and accurate analysis of Iraq's desperate reality. Maliki's structure made almost all members of the system into "made men." This way, he and the ones who get a share in the lot can distribute it in a manner of favors and rewards. The smallest person in the government has a small window of authority, and a large share of the money; most of them don't even use that window. Much like a mafia system, a typical authoritarian government; with a different face.

    Even more, a few ill-thought trade laws that select the flow of a few expensive goods were recently placed. Therefore, the people with the most money, oil assets, and public money can place contracts and mass import things like modern cars and sell them for subsidized prices. Thousands of people are signing up to get a cheaper car from the government; some waitlists exceed 2 years. The streets are suffocating with cars and everyone is breathing smoke.

    A bit more to add, Barazani and Talabani have been in power in Kurdistan for ages; it's still a family trade, and development reaches a plateau in this kind of system. I'm glad however, that the Kurdish authorities are subsidizing and pushing development in many areas. It is still not the majority of kurds that enjoy the hype, and the two families know how to keep opponents away from their business.

    It's a dilemma,

  6. Mohammed, I definitely agree that the Barzani family is monopolizing many aspect of the economy. Kurdish people are protesting, though. People will not be quite anymore until they see substantial change.

    Alan, today, there were more attacks by the Kurdish local government on the protestors' council that was recently formed in kurdistan. It seems that those kind of human rights violations are no longer the exception in the Kurdish region, they have become the rule.

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