Southern Iraq faces a genuine popular uprising
The angry demonstrations in central and southern Iraq are not, as some would like to dismiss them, a seasonal phenomenon caused by the excessive summer heat or demands for electricity and potable water. Rather, they represent a peaceful popular uprising rejecting the government’s policies and the corruption structures that have gripped Iraqi governments for 12 years.
It is an uprising against those who have looted the people’s wealth and against the ruling parties that have turned Iraq into one of the world’s poorest countries, thinking that, despite how much they suffer, the Iraqis would bow their heads and capitulate.
Iraq’s ruling parties are under the illusion that they can manipulate the people and keep them hostages of mounting despair and frustration. The religious and sectarian slogans they’ve abused to manipulate people were gone the minute the parties’ leaderships abandoned human rights. All Iraqi citizens — Shia, Sunni or Kurdish — want what they were promised: respect for their humanity and the right to a decent life in an oil-rich country.
The corrupt party leadership has always appealed to Shia religious institutions in Najaf for protection. However, those institutions have abandoned them and are siding with the common people.
Arrogant and self-centred leaders of the ruling party were only interested in fattening their own pockets and vying for more power. To cover their dictatorial practices, they resorted to making up convenient enemies. At times, it was the remnants of the Ba’ath Party; at other times, it was terrorism or the Islamic State (ISIS).
Iraqi Shias, however, have had it with this charade and, when they realised that elections were just a means for extending the status quo, they boycotted the vote; only 20% showed up at the polls.
Since 2013, the masses have expressed their anger and demanded change and radical political reforms through demonstrations in Baghdad and other cities.
However, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who rose to power in 2014 after those demonstrations, was unable to dismantle the complex corruption networks. Instead, he used the war against ISIS as a catchall pretext not to act, as if publicly exposing corrupt officials, bringing them to justice and legally recovering the embezzled fortunes were incompatible with the war on terror.
Abadi kept repeating that the war on terror and the war on corruption were two faces of the same coin. Apparently, they were not. The war on terror was not even the key to solving the festering problems in the sectors of electricity, water and public health.
Abadi’s handicap was that he belonged to the Dawa Party, the godfather of all oppressive policies in Iraq. He was unable to confront its leaders who were encrusted in the state and its institutions. Nor was he able to confront other Shia leaders who built family empires and have their own armed militias for protection. Some of them even enjoy Iran’s powerful protection and support.
Iran, of course, was happy to see that everything was going according to its plan for destroying Iraq.
Those who rose up and demonstrated in central and southern Iraq, are they not university graduates who were unable to find employment? Are they not the same young people who once voiced support for the Hakim family, for Muqtada al-Sadr or other leaders in whom they had high expectations?
This is why this revolutionary reaction is borne by these frustrated young people and the families of the martyrs who sacrificed their children for their country and were never compensated. It was the Shias of southern and central Iraq who are revolting and not the cities of Anbar, Saladin and Mosul, which were pacified and co-opted by the authorities after destroying them and dismissing their legitimate pre-2014 demands as acts of terrorism.
Now that the Shia populations in Najaf, Basra, Nasiriya and Amara have said “enough,” can any one of the corrupt Shia leaders dare accuse them of terrorism? The Shia leaders were indeed in a pickle and this is why they rushed to pretend they supported the demonstrations. As the saying goes, the killer walks in the funeral of the victim.
What is happening in central and southern Iraq is a genuine popular uprising. The demonstrations and sit-ins are spontaneous and not manipulated. Martyrs have fallen.
So how do Abadi, his government and the ruling parties react?
No, Abadi does not tender his government’s resignation. No, he doesn’t dismiss the ministers responsible for electricity and water. No, the government does not admit its failure.
Instead, authorities harass the demonstrators and cut off the internet. Non-genuine promises are made and $3 billion quickly earmarked for rebuilding Basra, as if the money could not be found before this moment of reckoning.
A security-based solution will have dangerous consequences, especially in Baghdad and especially if the Popular Mobilisation Forces’ militias are called in to safeguard public order for the benefit of the dominant parties.
Since Abadi’s government is a caretaker one, the best solution would be for it to resign and clear the way for an emergency government led by a select group of patriotic officers, most of whom have campaigned against ISIS. Only they can restore order in the country and call for early elections under UN supervision.