Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to take a two-pronged approach towards Iraq’s protest movement. Lately, the premier has been directly confronting the demonstrators in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square with his own supporters and a media campaign to steal the headlines. Then the prime minister offered a concession, direct talks with the government. One such meeting has already happened, and more might follow as Maliki uses carrots and sticks to break up the activists.
In mid-June 2011, it was reported that some organizers were meeting with the Iraqi cabinet. On June 17, Radio Nawa ran a story that two groups from Tahrir Square had created a joint committee that was ready for talks with the government. Then, three days later the Baghdad Operations Command spokesman, General Qassim Atta told the press that a conference had been held between activists and representatives of the cabinet in Baghdad. The general claimed that the talks lasted for five hours, and were generally positive. No details were released about what was discussed, but General Atta said that further get togethers were planned. Since demonstrations began in Iraq in January, there have been a few occasions when crowds have been given audiences with mayors, members of provincial councils, and governors, and turned over their lists of demands. This was the first time however, that the central government met face to face with protesters.
Activists face two major challenges in this new opening by the government. First, their set of demands are so broad, it’s nearly impossible for them to all be met. Picketers have brought up everything from Maliki stepping down, to U.S. forces withdrawing immediately, to improving services, fighting corruption, and providing jobs, to releasing family members detained by the security forces. That means depending upon who attends the conferences with officials totally different demands could be expressed. Second, the prime minister’s ultimate goal is to get people off the streets, and therefore he is not really interested in enacting any real reforms other than making empty promises that might appease people. Also, some problems in the country, like the chronic power shortages cannot be solved any time soon anyway. What seems like a promising development in the protest movement therefore, will likely lead to nothing positive. It could actually be a setback as it appears Baghdad is finally willing to listen to them, when in reality, Maliki is just trying to waste their time to dissipate the movement.
Aswat al-Iraq, “Joint governmental and demonstrators meeting held,” 6/20/11
Radio Nawa, “Form a joint committee between the Council of Ministers and the popular movement to consider the demands of the demonstrators,” 6/17/11