Oct 14, 2019
The following article was translated from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.
Since Tuesday, October 1, thousands of Iraqis have demonstrated every day in the capital, Baghdad, as well as in many other cities including Nasariya, Diwaniya, and even Basra and Najaf in the south of the country. Violent repression of these demonstrators has already killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 4,000.
The army issued a communique recognizing an excessive use of force. That’s an understatement. In Sadr City, the big neighborhood in the capital, videos showed demonstrators diving for cover from uninterrupted bursts of shots, some fired from heavy weapons. The mostly young demonstrators demand functioning public services, jobs particularly for the youth—one young person in four is unemployed—and the end of corruption that in six years has swallowed up four times the amount allocated to the state budget.
The demonstrators also demand the end of the Abdel Mahdi government that has been in power for a year. They chant: “The people want a change of regime,” “Give us back our country!” “In the name of religion, the thieves loot us.”
On Sunday, October 6, the government announced a series of reforms, but because the political class is so discredited, these promises have few chances of calming the anger expressed in the streets.
For a very long time, the Iraqi population has paid for the consequences of the government’s mismanagement and the imperialist interventions in the region. The last U.S. military intervention in 2003, which was followed by many years of occupation, destroyed the country and left the population to be the prey of militias and of extremely corrupt puppet governments. Since 2011, popular revolts have appeared periodically. One took place during the summer of 2018, when an important social movement swept the entire south of Iraq. For weeks, the population of Basra, the big oil city in the south, demonstrated to demand basic public services, in particular the distribution of water and electricity; for jobs; and for the end of the regime’s corruption. This revolt spread throughout the province and into those of Dhi War, Maysan, and Najaf, which are farther north, near the capital of Baghdad.
The current demonstrations were sparked by the removal of the counter-terrorism chief Abdelwahab al-Saadi, who became popular during the war against ISIS. Different calls to demonstrate also circulated on social media, reflecting perhaps what happened in Algeria.
While the protests seem to have appeared spontaneously, there is no shortage of political and religious leaders who are trying to fix their limits, including the Shia religious leader Moqtada al-Sadr. He called at first for peaceful sit-ins, then on Friday, October 4, he called for the resignation of the government ... which includes the coalition that he built in the last legislative session. He gained his popularity by opposing U.S. and British occupation troops, at the head of the militia he had created, and which he sometimes also led against the new Iraqi authorities. But from the movements of 2018 to today, while he encourages the demonstrators in words, he continues to participate in a coalition with al-Abadi, the last head of the government.
The anger of the Iraqi youth, the workers, and the poor classes goes well beyond rivalries among the politicians or religious and ethnic conflicts. After years of war, in a destroyed country, faced with unbearable conditions of life, the demands come from the aspiration to be able to live with dignity and to hope for a better future. In Iraq, as in other countries in the region, permanent war and the poverty it has produced have created a situation that is more and more unlivable, and the masses of the population are looking for a way out. The only real solution will be in removing the imperialists and in overthrowing the local ruling classes linked to them.