Iraq protests reveal an inconvenient truth about sectarian politics

Iraqis are beginning to work together at a grass-roots level to reforge their national identity away from the sectarian politics of the Green Zone elite.
Sunday 22/07/2018
Across the divide. Iraqis shout slogans and raise national flags during a protest in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.  (AFP)
Across the divide. Iraqis shout slogans and raise national flags during a protest in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. (AFP)

Iraqis took to the streets of the oil-rich south, calling on the government to end corruption, institute effective policies to ensure Iraqis had gainful employment and end foreign interference, primarily from Iraq’s ever-troublesome neighbour to the east, Iran.

In response, protesters faced police brutality and abduction by pro-Iran Shia jihadists who have a vested interest in crippling Iraq and making sure that it continues to be a gangland they can milk dry.

Although popular unrest is nothing unusual in Iraq, one key factor that has emerged is that all Iraqis have the same concerns, irrespective of their ethno-sectarian background. This fact could be a reason why the mainstream media have attempted to sidestep the protests and failed to give the demonstrations the attention they deserve because they prove that Iraqis are sick and tired of the sectarian nightmare that Iran exported to their country.

Whether Sunni, Shia or Christian, Iraqis have had enough of the militia violence and the complete subservience of their political class, which has failed them for 15 years, to the whims of religious fanatics in Iran.

The Iraqis who have bravely expressed their outrage against a regime and system that takes orders from Tehran are mostly Shias. That fact gobsmacks most Western journalists, analysts and policymakers who long assumed that, because Iraq is held under the thumb of pro-Iran Shia fundamentalists and jihadists, all Iraqi Shias must be broadly on the same page.

What they failed to understand is that the lack of security, economic opportunity, development, education and health care are issues that all Iraqis feel acutely. They also failed to understand there is an enormous difference between fundamentalist Shia Islamists and Iran-backed jihadist movements and the Shia Iraqis themselves.

Iran’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, made the same costly mistake during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Khomeini thought that all he need do was antagonise Iraq into war with Iran and the Shias of Iraq would stand with him against their own country, due to his religious credentials and the authority he wielded.

He was catastrophically wrong: Hundreds of thousands of patriotic Iraqi Shias gave their lives to prevent the exportation of Khomeini’s radical Shia jihadist ideology and to protect their homeland from an Iranian invasion.

When predominantly Sunni Arab protesters demonstrated peacefully against Nuri al-Maliki’s hyper-sectarian regime in 2012-13, many media outlets worked overtime to adopt the Green Zone’s rhetoric and paint the protesters as fundamentalists. They did so, despite reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others on human rights violations perpetrated by the government against the Sunni Arabs.

Now, however, they have been struck dumb and are unable to articulate what is happening in Iraq because it is Shia Arabs leading the call for change.

Iraqis are beginning to work together at a grass-roots level to reforge their national identity away from the sectarian politics of the Green Zone elite who have profited handsomely from the pillage of Iraq since 2003. The more this national unity is consolidated among Iraqis of all backgrounds, the less likely it is that the corrupt political process will survive.

This is why the government stood back as extreme violence was unleashed against the protesters and this is also why, ultimately, the regime will fail in stifling Iraqis’ desires for sovereignty and national unity.

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