Friday, February 25, 2011

Iraqi Government Tries To Deter Participation In “Day Of Rage” Protest

February 25, 2011 will be the “Day of Rage” protest in Iraq. Organizers have been using the internet to try to organize one million people to march through the streets of Baghdad to show their disgust with government, which has not been able to address the lack of basic services, high unemployment and underemployment, fight corruption, or to generally manage the country. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has decided to come out against this demonstration, and has used various tactics to try to deter people from participating.

In just the last few days, government officials have issued warnings about the planned event, and tried to block coverage of it. On February 24, Maliki said that people should not attend the march. He claimed that Baathists and Al Qaeda were going to manipulate it for their own ends. That same day, the Minister of National Reconciliation repeated that message about Baathists to a meeting of tribal sheikhs, urging them to tell their tribesmen to not go to the capital. A few days before, the Baghdad Operations Command claimed that it had intelligence that terrorists were going to target the march. As a result, the military banned all vehicles from central Baghdad on February 25, including those used by the media. The Communications and Media Commission is appealing to the Operations Command to allow television trucks to cover the demonstration live. All of these statements are a dramatic turn around for the government. Last week, the premier told his ministers and the governors that they had to listen to the on-going demonstrations, that the right to assemble was protected under the constitution, and that since there were recent elections the government didn’t have to worry about any real repercussions. 

Prime Minister Maliki has definitely changed his opinion about the country’s protests. He has gone from a supporter, to trying to discourage what might be the largest march to date. Protesters have increasingly gone from complaining about how badly their city or province is run, to calling for their local politicians to resign for mismanagement. Those demands could quickly turn to the new parliament, ministers, and Maliki himself, which would explain the premier’s change of face. There have also been clashes with security forces, and deaths in Kut, Wasit and Sulaymaniya in Kurdistan. Then again, not as many people may participate in the “Day of Rage” after both Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr encouraged their followers to not participate. Whatever happens, Iraq is going through a sensitive time as a complete government has still not be named because of political rivalries amongst the largest parties, economic development, job creation, and delivery of services are still lagging far behind demand, and more and more people are taking to the streets as a result.


Ahmed, Hamid, “Iraqi PM to country: Stay away from Friday demo,” Associated Press, 2/24/11

Alsumaria, “Iraq government tenses up tone against pretests,” 2/24/11   

Arraf, Jane, “Iraq attempts to defuse huge protest planned for Friday,” Christian Science Monitor, 2/23/11

Brosk, Raman, “Iraqi Media Commission challenges ban on live coverage of Friday protest,” AK News, 2/24/11

Al-Haffar, Hasson, “Sadrist Current threaten to withdraw from parliament over Kut protest clashes,” AK News, 2/19/11

Al-Rafidayn, “Al-Maliki Calls on Ministers and Provincial Governors to be Attentive to Demonstrations,” MEMRI Blog, 2/16/11


Steve Donnelly, AICP said...

The thing that consistently concerned me about Iraq and Afghanistan was the lack of public engagement.

Anytime there is a disaster, or serious threat, it is a positive path of human nature to engage it.

Now, we start to see Iraqis engaging their own future, and giving voice to serious failures of services, jobs, corruption.

Had Mr. Maliki embraced, supported and helped to channel legitimate frustration into forward, and shared, momentum, his marked on Iraqi history would have been profound. As yet, his approach has not done that.

What has been done, so far, is curiously similar to the old Ottoman/Persian Model---change the villayet's pasha if he can't keep locals quiet. It will be interesting to see how the government's respond to the root problem driving protests, which are not opposed to government, but opposed to lack of effective government.

Joel Wing said...

Yes, Maliki at first seemed to say that the demonstrations weren't a big deal, and actually told officials they should go out and talk with the people. Inevitably however, as the protests got bigger and bigger he decided to turn against today's demonstration. That wasn't that bad, but trying to talk about Baathists and Al Qaeda was pretty ridiculous.

As for the actual protests I read that the Basra governor said he would resign because of them. Unfortunately I don't think politicians are really use to responding to the public's demands yet, and just as important they are incapable of improving services right now, and not interested in fighting corruption. Iraq has a huge bloated government and salaries and pensions take up around 60% of every budget, plus they have a lot of problems getting through red tape and actually completing the projects they do plan. Until that ends, I would think that the protests will continue unless Maliki decides to crackdown on them. He did that last summer with the electricty protests, but I'm not sure these new ones could be contained as easily. It will be an interesting time to see what happens.

Joel Wing said...

Now it appears the governors of Basra, Baghdad, and Qadisiyah have all been forced to step down. A huge victory for the protesters today. Will their replacements be any better however?

Steve Donnelly, AICP said...

Right, but like you pointed out, changing governors does not create service improvements.

People can tolerate a lot if they believe it is a shared burden, so the idea of talking and engaging them to help is big. (look at the new strategies in Bahrain, etc...).

Somehow, I have problems with the idea that AQ is behind resident service protests in Sunni Tikrit. The problem is the services.

Corruption, though is more complex. It is easy to say that some are "stealing the money," but some (not all) of it is really just "off-record" revenue transfers to distribute income to needy former employees, relatives, etc..

In the US, "phantom"employees carried on an agency payroll always means the boss is stealing it. In war and post-conflict zones, it is much more complex. The question is: How to get beyond it, and turn agencies into performance, rather than relief vehicles?

I have a lot more faith in Iraqis, provided they can get on and stay on a good track.

These protests and conflicts are the necessary stuff of finding it. (Including for Mr. Maliki, Sadr, etc...).

Joel Wing said...

I guess I'm just a cynic but I think Baghdad is stuck between a rock and hard place. I just don't think they have the personnel, capacity, and laws in place right now to really develop the country. I think the situation is made worse because officials have started a bad habit of announcing huge projects, and then nothing happens. For example, I wrote this piece a little while ago about how the government announced several deals with foreign companies to build tens of thousands of houses, but then most of the them never actually went through. Now, Maliki and others have started claiming that they can solve the electricity problem in a year and a half, but I haven't read anything that says that's possible.

I don't even think these are problems created by corrupt or incompetent government, although those exist as well. The country is coming out of sanctions, dictatorship, and civil war with a state-run, command economy. It doesn't even have all the laws in place to work with most foreign investment. There's just a huge amount of issues Baghdad has to overcome.

Don Cox said...

"There's just a huge amount of issues Baghdad has to overcome."

Iraq needs forty years of peace to sort itself out.

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