Apr 18, 2005
On the second anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis gathered in Baghdad to demand an end to the U.S. occupation. The British newspaper Guardian estimated the huge crowd at 300,000. All news reports agreed that this was the largest demonstration in Iraq since the beginning of the occupation.
The protest was called by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the overwhelming majority of the protesters were poor Shiites, among whom Sadr has a strong following. But the crowd included Sunnis also. A prominent Sunni cleric, Harith Dari, had joined the call to come out in protest of the U.S. occupation.
Both of these clerics, who denounced the January 30 elections, were probably trying to reinforce their bases and position themselves politically with a view toward the future. But the size of the crowd that came out shows their call to protest resonated with the sentiments of the population, especially the poor.
The rally was held at Firdos Square, where two years ago a statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled by U.S. troops and a few dozen Iraqis. The images of that event, which we now know was staged by the U.S. military, were broadcast over and over on TV, as a way to trumpet the U.S. military victory over Iraq.
This year also, demonstrators pulled down an effigy of Saddam Hussein in celebration of his fall. But the effigy of the hated tyrant was accompanied by those of two of his equally hated colleagues – George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair!
The U.S. news media were not so enthusiastic about reporting this popular gesture against tyranny. Unlike recent large demonstrations in Ukraine and Lebanon, for example, this impressive outburst of popular sentiment in Iraq didn't quite make the news hours of the big TV stations or the first pages of the big newspapers.
Apparently, what matters to the U.S. news media is not so much expressions of "people power" or "democracy," but who they are directed against. In this case, the U.S.!