Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Iraq’s Maliki Using Infiltrators And Tribal Support Councils Against Demonstrators

Iraq’s protest movement has struggled to maintain its numbers and consistency. One of the main reasons has been the repressive tactics of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. There are reports that the premier is still intent on breaking up future demonstrations using a mixture of infiltrators and the Tribal Support Councils that he created two years ago.

Human Rights Watch released a report on June 30, 2011 that detailed how the government infiltrated one protest in Baghdad last month. Two sources in the Defense Ministry told Human Rights Watch that an order had been issued for up to 150 plainclothes security officers from the army and police to infiltrate the June 10 protest in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Maliki was worried that there would be a large event in the capital on that Friday as his 100-day deadline for evaluating the performance of the government had just ended. It was easy to place the infiltrators within the square on the 10th because Maliki’s Dawa Party organized a counter demonstration of 3,000 people. The pro-government crowd ended up attacking the protesters. Human Rights Watch saw four plainclothes officers assault protesters during the melee. Two of them even showed their Interior Ministry police ID badges. The Facebook group The Great Iraqi Revolution also has a photo page of six people they believe to be security officials who have attended the weekly assemblies in Tahrir Square. Infiltrating the crowd serves several purposes, the most important of which is probably to identify leaders who can be followed, harassed or arrested, which has happened to some of them before

Some of the men the Great Iraqi Revolution accuses of being government infiltrators 





Shatt al-Arab also ran a story that Maliki is preparing to counter demonstrations throughout the country with his Tribal Support Councils. The paper claimed that the Prime Minister had issued orders for his Dawa Party to get the Support Councils organized to suppress any protests that occur against the government. Maliki’s operatives were to appoint one tribal leader in each province, provide them with a salary and spending money to keep them loyal to the premier. Beginning in March 2008, Maliki began setting up the Tribal Support Councils. Originally, they were used against Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers during the government’s crackdown upon them, but later the prime minister used them to counter the Sons of Iraq, and to create a new patronage system to build up his support. Maliki now appears to be using them once again for his political means, by shaping them into an anti-demonstration force to be deployed in any province where activists may stage an assembly.

The Prime Minister is intent on breaking up the protest movement, and these are just two more examples of how he plans on doing it. He started off by promising reforms, and then sending the security forces to crackdown on activists and the media that were trying to cover them. Recently, he has become more sophisticated and organized his own events full of his supporters, and tried to seize the headlines from the demonstrators. These two reports show that he is trying to keep tabs on the movement’s activities through infiltrators, and that he is organizing the Tribal Support Councils into a nationwide force to counter any anti-government assemblies that may break out. Maliki was first caught by surprise when the Arab Spring came to Iraq in January, but since then, he has played a very shrewd game, and taken back the momentum. Organizers are fighting an uphill battle to keep up with his tactics, and they may ultimately lose as previous demonstrators did in 2010, which Maliki successfully put down. This does not bode well for Iraq’s emerging democracy that the country’s leader is willing to use such means, and violate people’s rights to end what have largely been peaceful demands for reform in the economy and politics.

SOURCES

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Attacks by Government-Backed Thugs Chill Protests,” 6/30/11

Saadi, Ahmed, “Maliki begins the reorganization of support councils in preparation for the suppression of any popular opposition,” Shatt al-Arab, 6/28/11

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