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?”[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcGsVc5Opug]
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.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=QQ5hw-PDvWU]
Since Syrian protests developed into a civil war, the entire region has experienced an exodus of refugees from the violence. More than 250,000 Syrians have registered in neighbouring countries with the UN High Commission on Refugees, while many have fled without registering, and more than a million are internally displaced.
Complicating matters further, Syria has long been home to refugees fleeing other conflict zones in the region. Communities of Iraqis in Damascus and Palestinians near the south western border now find themselves uprooted for a second time.
Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq have opened their borders to many of those fleeing the Syrian conflict. Other governments and international agencies have responded with aid. But with approximately 50,000 fleeing Syria every month, more and more refugees risk the deprivation of shelter, food, security, and other basic human rights.
Attacks in Iraq killed eight people and wounded 33 on Wednesday, security officials said, as Baghdad hosted key nuclear talks in its latest effort to emerge from decades of isolation.
Three people were killed and 14 wounded in a shooting and three roadside bombings in Baquba, capital of Diyala province north of the capital, a police lieutenant colonel and Dr. Ahmad Ibrahim of Baquba General Hospital said.
And a roadside bomb exploded near a bus carrying Lebanese Shia pilgrims near Ramadi, capital of Anbar, a Sunni Arab province west of Baghdad, killing three and wounding 10 others, police and medical sources said.
Iraq is home to some of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, to which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flock each year. Pilgrims have come under repeated attack by Sunni insurgents, often with bombs.
Two policemen were killed and five wounded in attacks in the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, capital of a province that Kurdish leaders want to incorporate into their autonomous region in northern Iraq, against Baghdad’s wishes.
Unknown gunmen attacked the house of a high-ranking police officer, killing a police guard, another high-ranking officer in the Kirkuk police said.
And two roadside bombs targeting a police patrol wounded three policemen in the city, while one policeman was killed and two wounded by a magnetic “sticky bomb” on their vehicle, the officer said.
Despite heightened security measures in and around the Iraqi capital, four people were wounded by a roadside bomb near a Sunni mosque in Al-Yarmuk, west Baghdad, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.
Thousands of additional Iraqi security personnel have been deployed in areas north, west and south of Baghdad to try to prevent the firing of mortars and rockets into the capital, a security official said.
The official also said without providing figures that additional forces have been deployed at checkpoints in the Iraqi capital, and that searches have been increased.
Major powers were holding talks with Iran in Baghdad on Wednesday, aiming to head off an escalating standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The talks are the latest example of Iraq pushing to host world events and present itself as a relatively stable country no longer rife with violence, but its attempts have so far yielded uneven results.
While violence is down from its peak in 2006 and 2007, attacks remain common, killing 126 people in April, according to official figures.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – More than 20 bombs hit cities and towns across Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 36 and wounding more than 100, police and hospital sources said, raising fears of sectarian strife in a country keen to show it can now maintain security.
In Baghdad, three car bombs, two roadside bombs and one suicide car bomb hit mainly Shi’ite areas in what looked like coordinated attacks, killing 15 people and wounding 61, the sources said.
Two car bombs and three roadside bombs aimed at police and army patrols in the northern oil city of Kirkuk killed eight people and wounded 26, police and hospital sources said.