A year ago, Iraq was caught up in the Arab Spring sweeping across the region. There were daily protests from northern to southern Iraq demanding better government and services. February 17, 2012, was the anniversary of the beginning of protests in Sulaymaniya, Kurdistan, which were the largest and most sustained in the country, while February 25 marked the Day of Rage when there were demonstrations across ten of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. Several youth groups tried to organize events to mark those two days, but they largely failed. A few dozen people showed up in Baghdad and Najaf, but nothing occurred in Sulaymaniya. This showed that Iraq’s protest movement has largely died due to government crackdowns.
As February 2012 approached, activists in both Baghdad and Sulaymaniya tried to arrange anniversaries of last year’s protest movement. At the beginning of February for instance, the Kurdistan Temporary Council of Revolution said that it would hold a demonstration in Sulaymaniya city to mark the February 17 anniversary of the first protest there. Kurdish authorities said that any such event needed government approval. Youth groups in Baghdad were also trying to get organized. The head of the Popular Movement for the Salvation of Iraq told an Iraqi paper that it was working with fifty other organizations that wanted to set up marches in Baghdad, Anbar, Ninewa, Dhi Qar, Basra, Wasit, and Diyala on February 25 to mark the anniversary of the Day of Rage. (1) Some organizers wanted to start a sit-in movement in the capital to pressure the government to reform itself. When February 17 came, there was nothing in Sulaymaniya except for extra security forces in the streets. Two reporters from KNN TV and a member of the Metro Center for Defending Journalists ended up being arrested for trying to report on the heavy security in the city. The Kurdish opposition parties, made up of the Change List, the Kurdistan Islamic Group, and the Kurdistan Islamic Union, issued a joint statement condemning the government for not carrying out any meaningful reforms a year after protests occurred in the region, but said they would not participate in any public events. In Baghdad, on February 24 and 25 there were demonstrations. Only around 50 people showed up on the latter date for a march that went from Mutanabi Street to Tahrir Square in the center of the city. There was also a gathering in Najaf. Like in Kurdistan, there were far more police in attendance than activists. These were all signs that the protest movement in Iraq has largely disintegrated. In the first six to seven months of 2011, there were thousands of demonstrators across the country. They demanded a wide variety of things such as jobs, an end to corruption, electricity and other services, and for government reforms. Eventually, both the central authorities and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) decided to put an end to these public outbursts. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised a 100-day review of the government’s performance, but also used members of his State of Law list and the security forces to break up protests and arrest activists. Similar actions were taken in Sulaymaniya. Human Rights Watch has condemned these actions several times. This carrot and stick approach had effectively ended national attempts at demonstrations by the second half of 2011, although very small events continued in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square for several more weeks.
|Protesters in Baghdad's Tahrir Square Feb. 25, 2012 to mark the anniversary of The Day Of Rage (Getty Images)|
|More protesters in Tahrir (Getty Images)|
In early 2011, Iraq joined many other nations in the Middle East and North Africa who were witnessing populist movements calling for change. While there were some dramatic transformations in Tunisia and Egypt, in other countries like Bahrain and Algeria, the government held against these public outbursts. Iraq joined the latter group, as threats, intimidation, and promises of reform were able to bully and cajole activists into retreating from the streets. While there are still people trying to organize in Iraq, they have largely been ineffective in bringing out anymore than a few dozen people in Baghdad. They are usually met with a wave of police showing that the government has largely won this struggle.
1. BBC Monitoring Middle East, “Iraqi activists cited on plans to mark anniversary of 2011 “uprising,”” BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 2/19/12
Agence France Presse, “Iraq’s protest movement: despondent and divided,” 1/31/12
- “Iraqis rally on anniversary of deadly demonstration,” 2/25/12
Aswat al-Iraq, “2 NRT Satellite journalists arrested in Sulaymaniya
- “Demonstration for appointing employees in the Electoral Authority,” 11/11/11
- “Demonstration to commemorate last year’s protests,” 2/25/12
- “Scores demonstrate in Baghdad for reform,” 2/24/12
- “Youth movement calls for demonstration tomorrow,” 2/24/12
BBC Monitoring Middle East, “Iraqi activists cited on plans to mark anniversary of 2011 “uprising,”” BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 2/19/12
The Change Movement, The Kurdistan Islamic Union, The Kurdistan Islamic Group, “Opposition’s joint press release on the anniversary of 17 February demonstrations and events,” The Kurdistan Tribune, 2/16/12
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Intensifying Crackdown on Free Speech, Protests,” 1/22/12
Mohammed, Fryad, “Protests must be approved by government,” AK News, 2/11/12
News agencies, Aswat al-Iraq, ekurd.net, “Security measures in Iraqi Kurdistan’s cities, on the anniversary of anti-KRG protests,” Mesopotamische Gesselschaft, 2/18/12
Saifaddin, Dilshad, “Two journalists arrested in Sulaimaniya,” AK News, 2/17/12