Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Iraqis call for change

Protests against corruption and the lack of public services continued across Iraq for a fifth week, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad

Al-Ahram Weekly

Anti-corruption protests that began almost two months ago are continuing in Iraq, with the controversy surrounding the power-sharing policy in the country leading to chaos and violence.

“The corruption has increased the number of Iraqis living under the poverty line,” said Issam Hammoud, an unemployed young Iraqi.

“I graduated from the university five years ago and have been jobless since then. I began working as a taxi-driver and have heard many times that the government will solve our problems. Yet the unemployment rate has been rising every year.”

Hammoud has been taking part in the protests in Baghdad and says he will continue “until reforms are seen.”

“We, the Iraqi people, are protesting against the corruption that is the main reason that has led the country to its current state,” said May Irfan, a protestor. “We lack general services. The shortages of electricity have just been the spark for the wider protests.”

This Friday will mark the sixth week of the protests, with the protestors gathering in Tahrir Square in downtown Baghdad, where the Liberty Monument by the late sculptor Jawad Salim has stood since the 1960s. It adds additional meaning to the protests, the slogan of which is: “In the name of religion, the thieves robbed us.”

The protests do not have a single leadership, but are taking place in Baghdad and other provinces, even in Basra, 545 km south of Baghdad, where the protests began in July. The Baghdad protests began on 1 August as a result of calls on social media.

The success of the first Friday protests made many political groups, politicians and lawmakers try to put themselves at the head of the protests, though without success. The protestors became aware of the TV channels used by corrupt officials and now banners condemning the media have become significant features of the Friday protests.

“The owners of the TV channels claim sympathy with the protestors and blackmail officials,” commented Jabbar Ahmed, a journalist.

The Marjieyah, the country’s highest Shiite authority, also gave strength to the protestors when the representative of Ayatollah Al-Sistani, Hujjat Al-Islam Abdul-Mahdi Al-Karbala’i, during his Friday sermon delivered to a large and fervent crowd in the shrine of Imam Al-Husayn in the holy city of Karbala, demanded that corruption “be hit with an iron hand.”

On 3 August, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi announced a reform package designed to deal with the problem. This was welcomed by Al-Karbala’i, who wanted “more measures to eradicate corruption in the country.” Al-Abadi has also put forward proposals to shrink the Iraqi cabinet.

“I welcome the reform proposals of Prime Minister Al-Abadi. They come at a time when more and more people are demanding reforms and efficiency,” said Gyorgy Busztin, acting head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and deputy special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq.

“Corruption and inefficiency create widespread and rightful dissatisfaction, which in turn can be manipulated by terrorist groups for their own ends,” Busztin said.

Welcoming the first reform package, the protestors continued their calls to prolong the protests. However, some social media sites carried attempts to politicise the protests, and there were statements accusing the protestors of following an agenda from outside Iraq.

On Friday 14 August there were warnings that the protestors could be attacked, even though they had underlined their intention to carry out peaceful protests, as has been the case every Friday.

The main streets to Tahrir Square were closed, and all the protestors were inspected at dozens of checkpoints when entering the square. The streets around it were closed by barbed wire and security forces were present to protect the protestors.

Rumours circulated that the protests had been “sold” to extremist religious parties. Hameed Qasim, a poet, journalist and activist, claimed on his Facebook page that there were some who were ready to give $500,000 to the leading activists.

“It is too early to disclose the names of those responsible,” Qasim said, though he said those behind the bribery were not members of a religious party. “There have been attempts to politicise the protests and distort their main goals by some forces. But the protestors are aware of these and have succeeded in pushing them away.”

He continued, “The protests are spontaneous, and there is no central leadership. Coordinating committees might be useful, although they would be something of caveats. There could be disputes regarding who would be the spokesman of the protestors. Coordinating committees could be a solution to agree on choosing a spokesman.”

The Turkmens, the third-largest ethnic in Iraq, have also organised protests in Baghdad and Kirkuk. The shrinking of the Iraqi cabinet has caused the Turkmens to lose their only minister, Mohamed Mehdi Al-Bayati, the minister of human rights, when his ministry was closed along with five other ministries.

“The Turkmens were and still are against the power-sharing policy,” Ali Al-Bayati, the head of the Turkmen Rescue Foundation, an NGO, said, adding, “We insist on stopping this policy. If not, we will demand that we have a representative in the cabinet. We are not against the reforms. We are against attempts to marginalise us.”

“The attempts to politicise the demonstrations will fail because of the actions of the masses. Nobody and no force can cheat or stop them,” said Maytham Hillou, a doctor, writer and activist, on his Facebook page. “We will continue fighting corruption wherever it is,” he added.

“In the name of religion, the thieves have robbed us of our childhood and our dreams,” a group of primary school pupils with Iraqi flags in their hands shouted among tens of thousands of angry Iraqis in Tahrir Square in Baghdad and many other Iraqi cities last Friday.

“We will continue our protests,” activists posted on their social media pages. “We are the real Iraqi parliament.”

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