Peaceful Protests Again Met with Arrests and Government Violence in Iraq
Demonstrations continue across Iraq as people in more than a dozen cities march to demand an end to corruption and the most basic services.
After last week’s killing of demonstrators by security forces, in Baghdad:
Demonstrators this Friday took measures to protect themselves, showing the distrust many feel toward the security forces.
Kamil al-Assadi, a resident of Sadr City, formed a committee checking demonstrators entering the square because they were worried the security forces might plant people in the crowd to create problems.
“We do not trust the Iraqi security forces and formed a committee to check the demonstrators to make sure that no one is carrying a knife or any kind of weapon who aims at creating any problems during the demo,” he said.
Also in Baghdad, two of the organizers – “a detained student in the Faculty of Medicine and the other an activist in the field of human rights” – were reported arrested.
In Basra, three journalists were beaten by security forces and needed to go to the hospital even though officials had previously promised they would be safe while working.
“About 1,000 people gathered at the Basra provincial council building to rally against corrupt officials and poor basic services.” Again they were met with violence from “Iraqi security [who]forces used water cannon and batons to disperse the crowds.”
One Basra protester explained why he is marching:
“I have been applying for a job for six years and did not get one so far. They (officials) ask for bribes to employ people,” said 30-year-old Noor Mohammed, a graduate from Basra University’s engineering faculty. “I regret electing those people because their democracy is that people should smile at (Prime Minister Nuri) Al Maliki and should say nothing to him.”
… Some carried banners reading “where is the petrol money going Maliki?” and “people want reform”, while others called for better education and health systems.
Today we read that protesters who have been holding a sit-in in Sulimaneya were attacked by a military force who:
At dawn on Sunday raided the tents inside the arena of peaceful protesters and beat some of them and arrested several demonstrators and took them to an unknown destination.
There are reports that some of the tents were set on fire – and of another attack on journalists, this time a raid on the independent radio station:
Separately, the head of an independent Kurdish radio station said Sunday that gunmen attacked the broadcast facility and destroyed or stole equipment overnight.
Azad Othman, the head of Dank Radio, told CNN that the attackers stormed the station in Kalar, a town 150 kilometers south of Sulaimaniya.
Danial Anas Kaysi of the Carnegie Endowment provides a good analysis at Foreign Policy:
In places as varied as Basra, Wasit, Nineveh, Babil, Qadisiya, and Baghdad, Iraqis have taken to the streets in protest over paltry services and increasingly high levels of corruption. Surely encouraged by other Arab peoples’ drives towards democratic accountability, the Iraqis have grown repulsed by their own politicians continuing to squabble over positions and living lavishly, even as they claimed to represent their people’s downtrodden conditions. After the March 2010 elections, the Iraqi people waited close to ten months for their political representatives to agree on a framework and form a government (which is yet to be truly completed due to disputes concerning the naming of security ministers). Those were months in which the population continued to live in the shadow of an occupation, in face of high unemployment levels and in deteriorating conditions – from low levels of electricity and water to mismanaged sewage systems and ration card provisions.
When Maliki was chosen, the Iraqi people continued to patiently await the creation of a national unity government capable of addressing their needs. All along, Maliki led a protracted campaign to retain the premiership, arguing that was Iraq’s best choice in guiding it away from its woes at a time of uncertainty. While services were not central to his coalition’s campaign, Maliki concentrated on his capability to impose the rule of law and bring back stability and security so that the country might begin to truly rebuild. Security could be quite the convincing argument had terrorist attacks decreased rather than increased, and had the prime minister not been creating police forces outside the regular chain of command, such as the infamous Baghdad Brigades, which is feared by the residents of the city.
The prime minister’s image can no longer be built on a mirage of security and stability.
With security deteriorating – reports of bombings, armed attacks by unknown forces and more again fill the pages of Aswat Al Iraq – and Kurdistan’s President Barzani making a play with his Peshmerga to take control of Kirkuk – that mirage is fading faster by the day.
On Friday, Moqtada al Sadr’s representative said Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki has abdicated his responsibility to the people. Al Sadr met with Dr Allawi [note correction], a meeting which suggests development of a new opposition alliance which could shake up the current coalition which gives Maliki a majority. Following this meeting:
On the protests in the cities of Iraq’s various recently, Mr. Muqtada al-Sadr said that he supported the demonstrations peaceful nature, stressing the need to make the Prime Minister and members of the government make more efforts to serve the people.
It seems that Prime Minister Maliki – like his counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere is not listening and has not learned that violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters do not replace action on the people’s demands.
Video: from Friday’s protests at Nasariya, the chant is a call for the governor to resign.