Thursday, July 14, 2011

Protests In Iraq Continue Into July

July 2011 saw continued protests in Iraq. There was a sit-in in Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar, and a march in Basra over the lack of services. The weekly demonstration on Friday in Baghdad also occurred. While local officials made themselves available in Dhi Qar and Basra, the same was not true in the capital. At the end of Friday’s event there was a scuffle with pro-government forces, plus a few arrests by the security forces that subsequently beat their detainees. The first week of July was one of the few where there were assemblies outside of Baghdad. It also showed that while provincial councils have tried to be accommodating towards activists, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is intent on intimidating them, and breaking them up.

On July 3, 2011, protesters gathered in Dhi Qar’s provincial capital Nasiriyah. They started with a march to the city center where they then held a rally outside the provincial council building. People chanted for the release of prisoners, to not allow Baathists in the government, (1) for better security, economic development, to end corruption, for jobs and services, and for the governor, the head of the council, and Dhi Qar’s police chief to all resign. The protesters also called for Dhi Qar to become its own region as the best way to achieve these goals. They said that they would stay until their demands were met. They then set up tents and shanties outside the council headquarters for a sit-in. (2) A member of the council said that they had meetings with protesters before, and that they planned on consulting with this new group, but organizers refused, claiming that the politicians had made plenty of promises before, but never followed through with them. That led the governor to come out and talk with the demonstrators. He promised to pass on their list of demands to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Dhi Qar has been one of the most active provinces in the country outside of Baghdad. Most recently, assemblies were held there on July 2 and June 24, but there were also protests over the lack of electricity back in June 2010.
Protesters in Nasiriyah making their demands (Al-Sharqiya TV)
March in Nasiriyah (Al-Sharqiya TV)
Setting up tents in Nasiriyah (News Network Nasiriyah)
Sit-in, Nasiriyah (News Network Nasiriyah)
Two days later, people came out onto the streets of Um Qasr in Basra against the lack of services. They complained that they did not get an adequate supply of electricity and drinking water. Some local politicians also joined in. The city council even issued a statement in support of the event saying that Basra was rich with oil, but that it lacked the basic necessities and infrastructure to be wealthy. The governor of the province sent a delegation to meet with the organizers, while the deputy governor said that the people had legitimate complaints. Basra province has also seen its spate of demonstrations this year as part of Iraq’s Arab Spring, and was also the catalyst for the protests last year about electricity. The governorate is the home to most of the country’s oil fields, and its only major ports, yet services are still poor, and there is widespread poverty. Those have been major points of contention for years, and have finally boiled over.

Finally, July 8 was the day for the weekly gathering at Tahrir Square, Baghdad. Hundreds turned out voicing a variety of issues as usual, but one of the main ones was the visit of Iran’s Vice President Mohammad Rahimi. The protesters demanded that the government stop Iranian interference in the country such as their support for Special Groups. They also criticized Baghdad for doing nothing about Iranian shelling of Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, and sending polluted water into Basra and Maysan. Others complained about corruption, demanded that early elections be held, and that the U.S. withdraw its forces immediately. Some workers from the Election Commission showed up again, asking for full time contracts. The crowd also burned U.S., British, and Israeli flags, and tried to torch an Iranian one as well. Some of the chants heard were “Friday after Friday until we rid of al-Maliki,” “We haven’t seen oil, but only poverty,” and “They’re all thieves.” This eclectic mix of demands has been the normal fare at the Tahrir protests. Several hundred also showed up this week, which was more than pervious weeks. That might show that activists in the capital at least, may be growing bolder after the government’s steps to repress them.
Banners seen at Tahrir Square, Bahgdad (Al-Sharqiya TV)
Protesters at Tahrir Square (National Iraqi News Network)
Chanting at Tahrir Square
Everything was going peacefully until the end of the protest. Some supporters of the prime minister showed up, and began harassing some of the demonstrators. Then when the people were leaving the square, security forces arrested several participants. First, several plainclothes officers began beating one activist, before throwing him a truck of a car and driving off. A woman who was taking picture of the assault had another group of plainclothes men drag her out of a bus, and take her away. A worker for the Al-Mada newspaper was also arrested and beaten, and a protester had his house raided. In total, the Popular Coordination Movement claimed that seven of its members were arrested that day. Five of them were later released, and claimed that they were beaten and abused by the security forces. July 8 turned out to be like many other Friday’s, with Maliki trying to intimidate and break-up the demonstration. He has organized members of his Dawa and the tribal support councils as counter demonstrators, and has carried out a wave of arrests of activists. That has shut down most of the protests in the country, but organizers have still been able to bring people out every Friday in Baghdad despite the premier’s best efforts.

Maliki’s attitude towards the protest movement was shown in two recent meetings. First, on July 7, the Dawa Party held a conference with tribal support councils in Karbala. They thanked those that went to Tahrir Square, and helped suppress demonstrators on June 10, while threatening those that hadn’t been cooperative. Then on July 8, Maliki gave a speech to sheikhs in Baghdad saying that the changes occurring in the rest of the Arab world would not occur in Iraq. He claimed that the country was “immune” from the Arab Spring, and that the nation had to stand together to maintain stability. Rather than answer the people’s demands or simply use the riot police to break up demonstrations, the premier has increasingly turned to extra-legal means. Maliki originally created the tribal support councils to counter Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, but now they are simply becoming a group of vigilantes to be used by the prime minister against his opponents. Maliki’s remarks about Iraq not being like other countries in the region also showed that he is completely unwilling to accept the legitimacy of the demonstrators.

July has started off much like previous months. On the one hand, the prime minister is attempting to use force to end the protests, while on the other provincial officials have either done nothing since the demonstrations started, or lack the capabilities to meet any of their demands. That represents one major dilemma for activists. Neither the local nor central authorities have the will or means to bring about any meaningful reforms in the country. At the same time, the protest movement has been largely repressed by the prime minister’s tactics meaning that outside pressure on the government is diminishing, and so are the hopes for any real change to come out of the nation’s demonstrations.


1. Hamid, Murtaza, “The governor of Dhi Qar met with a  number of demonstrators in Nasiriyah, looking to meet their demands,” Voice of Iraq, 7/4/11

2. Al Aalem, “Demonstration for the Mujahideen for federalism in the south turned to the military barracks in Nasiriyah,” 7/3/11


Al Aalem, “Demonstration for the Mujahideen for federalism in the south turned to the military barracks in Nasiriyah,” 7/3/11

Alsumaria, “Hundreds of protests in Baghdad Tahrir Square,” 7/9/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “4 demonstrators arrested – Activist,” 7/8/11
- “Burning flags, 4 detained in today’s demonstration,” 7/8/11
- “Civilian Organization charges government with arresting 7 of its activists in Baghdad demonstration,” 7/9/11
- “February gathering sit-in in Nassiriya,” 6/24/11
- “Nassiriya demonstration demands Federalism in South Iraq,” 7/3/11

Hamid, Murtaza, “The governor of Dhi Qar met with a  number of demonstrators in Nasiriyah, looking to meet their demands,” Voice of Iraq, 7/4/11

Al-Kadhimi, Bahaa, “Umm Qasr protesters decry lack of basic services,” AK News, 7/6/11

Al-Mada, “Head of government: Iraq is immune from the Arab spring,” 7/8/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Demonstrators denounce Iran’s Vice President visit, demanding Iran stop violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” 7/8/11

Saadi, Ahmed, “Threatening some tribal support councils in the chapter to not participate in the repression of demonstrations in Tahrir Square,” Shatt al-Arab, 7/7/11

Sharqiya Television,” Dozens of people from the city of Nasiriyah, begin a sit-in,” 7/3/11
- “Tribal elders in Dhi Qar: the deterioration of services and lack of the most basic requirements of the Simple Life,” 7/2/11

Shatt al-Arab, “Liberation Square: government forces glaciation young demonstrators,” 7/9/11

Tawfeeq, Mohammed, “Activists: Protesters beaten in Baghdad,” CNN, 7/8/11


amagi said...

> Maliki’s remarks about Iraq not being like other countries in the region also showed that he is completely unwilling to accept the legitimacy of the demonstrators.

Ironically, by being completely unwilling to accept the legitimacy of the demonstrators, he proves that Iraq is exactly like other countries in the region.

Joel Wing said...

Yes Maliki is becoming more autocratic by the day.

Kadhum A. Jabbar said...

The current Iraqi government is trying to pass a new law in the Iraqi Parliament to register the protests, 5 of the organizers and the demonstrators before 5 days from its lunch, that meant you have to take a permission from the government to protest against it
And they hold the organizers fully responsible about what happens.
Did you see such democracy.??

Joel Wing said...

In 2010 when protests broke out about the lack of electricity Maliki quietly told the Interior Ministry and provincial councils to put stricter restrictions on issuing permits to try to stop the demonstrations. Now he's trying to do it again with a new law that would codify his earlier instructions. It's not clear that it will get through parliament however, but is another sign that the premier wants to end the protests.