Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Demonstrations in Fallujah

As Sunni protests in the Iraqi provinces of Salaheddin, Anbar and Nineveh continue, giant anti-government demonstrations are being held in the city of Fallujah, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti

Al-Ahram Weekly

Tens of thousands of Iraqis rallied in the city of Fallujah last Friday to mark “Loyalty to the Martyrs of Fallujah Friday”, a tribute to nine protesters shot dead in the city the Friday before.

Pick-up trucks full of young men carrying both old and new Iraqi flags and prayer mats made their way to Fallujah for the demonstration, and tens of people stood on the main roads around the city waiting for cars or trucks to take them to the centre of the city, while as many others walked.

Iraqi federal police checkpoints along the road from Baghdad to Fallujah checked the trucks, ordering those within to stand in line to be frisked, their arms raised above their heads along the side of the road.

At the entrance to Fallujah itself, members of the demonstration coordination committees wearing badges checked those eager to participate in the anti-government protest and in Friday prayers.

Before the call to prayer had sounded, the highway into the city already looked like the courtyard of a mosque, and in the city itself a platform had been set up where the imam and preacher would stand for prayers, with places being set up all around for cameramen and television crews.

Behind the platform there were posters showing images of the martyrs.

By the time the call to prayer took place there were thousands of people in front of the platform — young and old, teenagers, students, the unemployed, members of the clergy and teachers, ex-army officers and public-sector workers.

Not far from the highway, local and federal police stood by to protect the place.

Shortly before the call to prayer, the imam called out silmiya, silmiya (peaceful, peaceful), and the crowds responded by shouting silmiya too.

They raised banners painted with slogans setting out their demands of the Iraqi government, together with Iraqi flags and photographs of the martyrs.

In his sermon, the imam, Abdel-Hamed Jaddo, said that the martyrs would never be forgotten and that the protests would continue until the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki had met their demands.

Salah, 15, whose brother Hossam had been killed the previous Friday, said that “after the firing began, my brother crossed to the opposite side, trying to help a wounded person. But he was shot in the chest and died immediately.”

Bashir Nori, a student, said that “according to the constitution written by the occupiers, we are not in the wrong. This is a peaceful protest. The participants are holding nothing but prayer mats.

“We cannot remain silent and see detained women humiliated and tortured. We are demonstrating for the rights of all Iraqis.”

Sheikh Khaled Humoud Al-Jumaili, another demonstrator, added that “ministerial and parliamentary committees came and met officials in Fallujah, but they should have come to the tents where the sit-in was and talked to the protesters.”

According to the organisers of the protests, if the government does not meet their demands the demonstrations will continue. “It is a matter of time,” they said, “or of who blinks first.”

The Iraqi army had fired on the protesters the previous week, the organisers said, though Field Marshal Ali Ghidan, commander of Iraq’s ground forces, contradicted their claims by saying that the army had been attacked first. The Iraqi army has now withdrawn from Fallujah in line with the demands of the protest organisers.

An Iraqi parliamentary committee appointed to investigate events in the city has submitted a draft report, and this will be read in parliament in the coming session. The committee was set up on 7 January in line with the demands of demonstrators in the Iraqi Salaheddin, Anbar and Nineveh provinces.

The committee, led by Hussein Shahristani, minister for energy, went to Fallujah, Salaheddin, Samara and Mosul, all cities where protests have been taking place, wrapping up its mission with a visit to Mosul last Sunday.

Shahristani met with local officials and tribal sheikhs, telling them that “over recent weeks, 3,000 detainees have been released, and female detainees have been sent home.”

Shahristani said that “30,000 people are currently being held in Iraqi prisons, including 17,000 convicted of civil crimes. 6,000 of the remaining 13,000 have been convicted of terrorism, while there are a further 7,000 still under investigation.”

However, the protesters are not only calling for the release of prisoners. They are also calling for the cancellation of the so-called de-Baathification law, designed to prevent former members of the former ruling Iraqi Baath Party from holding public office, and the cancellation of article four of the constitution, which deals with terrorism offences.

Ex-army officers should be reintegrated into Iraqi life, the protesters say, and the Sunnis should not be marginalised by the predominately Shia government.

Back in Fallujah, another protester, Abdel-Rahman, was raising a banner saying, “if the politicians agree, they will steal from us; if they disagree, they will kill us.”

Almost 10 years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, it seems that no government has been able to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

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