Elections looming on the horizon and 5 days of protests have led to a sudden burst of interest in Iraq, the country the world usually chooses to ignore. The protests erupted after the arrest of the Finance Minister’s bodyguards sparked already simmering anger. Prime Minister Maliki has denied ordering last Thursday’s arrests and suggested that they were the result of an investigation undertaken by the judiciary. Protesters say the issues are far greater than these recent arrests.
Western media is playing up the Sunni-vs-Shia “rising sectarian tide” angle on these events, which bear all the hallmarks of other similar uprisings in the MENA region, starting with Tunisia a little over 2 years ago. One of the protest areas, Anbar, is also claimed to be a location currently favoured by al Qaeda, with the suggestion it might be used as a transit point for fighters en route to Syria. The government is reported to have imposed emergency situation restrictions there.
No revolution is complete without a Facebook page these days and Iraq has one, because in fact there have been protests there for at least two years; they just didn’t get the same level of attention as some countries.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have joined demonstrations in Anbar, Falluja, and Ramadi, chanting slogans against Mr Maliki. During the protest in Ramadi a mock funeral was held for the Iraqi judiciary. Asharq Alwasat reports that around 60,000 people blocked the main road through the city of Falluja, 50 km (32 miles) west of the capital, setting fire to the Iranian flag and shouting “out, out Iran! Baghdad stays free” and “Maliki you coward, don’t take your advice from Iran”. At demonstrations in the northern city of Mosul and in Samarra, protesters chanted “the people want the fall of the regime”, the slogan used in popular revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Some journalists attempting to reach the city were held at an army checkpoint some 50km east of Ramadi for six hours, and were unable to cover the demonstration, says the BBC’s Rami Ruhayem who was at the scene.
Al Jazeera has already hosted a discussion asking “What is stoking Iraqi rage?”
In one protest today, community leaders issued nine demands and an ultimatum to the government during a video interview:
- immediate release of detained protesters and dissident prisoners
- approve the amnesty law for innocent detainees
- the abolition of anti-terrorism laws used to target them
- repeal unfair rulings against dissidents
- provide essential services to areas which have been neglected by the state
- hold all members of official or security organisations who have committed crimes against dissidents accountable, especially those who have violated the honor of women in prisons
- stop financial and administrative corruption
- stop agitating divisions between groups, end marginalization of Sunnis
- fight sectarianism
From tomorrow, Saturday 29 December 2012, an open-ended sit-in will begin, until these demands are met.