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)|
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|
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