Iraq: marching against the war economy

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In a region scarred by imperialist war and sectarian divisions, the recent social protests in Iran, Jordan and Iraq offer hope that there is another possibility: the united struggle of the exploited against capital and its brutal violence. This article, written by a close sympathiser, looks at the massive demonstrations that have swept through central and southern Iraq.

Starting on July 8 a number of spontaneous protests broke out in central and southern Iraq involving thousands of demonstrators. It spread through eight southern provinces very quickly and, about a fortnight later, onto the streets of Baghdad. These followed significant protests in Jordan and Iran on exactly the same issues. The movement in Iraq would have been aware of these protests and inspired by them given the basic similarities.

The working class in Iraq is numerically and generally weaker than in the two other countries and though there are reports of protesters and oil workers meeting up, the content and context of those meetings are not known. But the driving forces of the protests are class issues:

- Unemployment: the official figures of 18% youth unemployment are believed by no-one as over four-hundred-thousand youths come onto the labour market every year with little prospect of a job;

- Lack of basic services: the 50 degree heat has further increased the misery resulting from restrictions on and outages of electricity which is only available for a short part of the day and this is despite $40 billion allocated since 2003 to rebuild the country’s network.

- Healthcare: cancers and other serious congenital illnesses of the brain and the body in children and numerous other serious health failings are rising throughout Iraq. As long ago as 2009, Reuters reported that many families were making the terrible decision to let their children die (December 1)[1]. The lack of care in these serious instances is reflected in all levels of health care in Iraq.

- Water: similar to the demonstrators in Jordan and Iran (where in the south the military was siphoning vast amounts off to feed their agri-businesses), the protesters have demanded access to clean drinking water. The demand for this basic need of potable water shows a convergence of economic and ecological issues within the protests. [2]

- High rents and unpaid wages (Rudaw Media, 20.7.18).

- Corruption and cronyism: as in Jordan and Iran these are essential elements of the war economy and those that live high on it incur the indignation of the masses as living conditions decline throughout the country. Protesters have also denounced the "election fraud".

Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, Ali al-Sistani, has called on the government to accept the protesters’ demands; similar "support" for the protests has come from the populist Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr[3] who, subject to a recount, won the May 12 elections with the help of the Iraqi Communist Party; the Prime Minister of the ruling Sawa Party, Haider al-Abadi, has promised funding and projects to respond to the protests; and the Saudis, sniffing an opportunity to counter Iranian influence, have promised "aid".

Not only have government and municipal buildings been the target of demonstrators’ attacks but so have the Shia institutions belying their hypocritical "support" for the wave of protests. The "radical" populist al-Sadr had his delegation to the protesters attacked and seen off – this was shown in footage on social media.  Every major Shia institution has been rejected and their offices attacked and what makes this even more important is that the attacks have come from their own constituents in the Shia heartlands, with the protesters ironically using the term Safavids to describe their leaders, an  expression referring to past Shia dynasties by often used by Sunnis as a term of abuse. Iranian planes were ransacked at the airport of the Shia holy city of Najaf and the HQ's of pro-Iranian militia including the Popular Mobilisation Units have been targeted and burnt along with government offices. According to Kurdistan News 24, 14.7.18, regular Iraqi army units joined the protests in at least one province. When the protests took a step forward and hit Baghdad, Middle-East Eye, 19.7.18, reports the slogan "Not Sunni, not Shia, secular, secular!" coming from large crowds.

Prime Minister al-Abadi has sacked a minister and some officials and promised reform but the overwhelming response of the state has been repression, round-ups, arrests and torture, while further protests have seen the release of detainees. The government declared a "state of emergency" and imposed an internet crackdown early on, and tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition has been used against the protesters. Counter-terrorism units were mobilised against the protesters in Baghdad, unthinkable without the say-so of the US and British high command in the "Green Zone". At least 14 people have been killed and 729 injured according to Human Rights Campaign, 20.7.18. But the protests, going on for some three weeks now, have continued up to this week-end when security forces attacked demonstrators outside the provincial council and oil field of Qurna, Basra.

Like Iran and like Jordan these outbursts are directed against a war economy and all its parasitic detritus. Like Iran and like Jordan the protests of 2018 in Iraq are more widespread and more profound that the previous outbreaks (in 2015 in Iraq's case) and it's fairly obvious that the religious leaders have much less influence. The promises of the government and the influence of the religious leaders are losing their sway as the proletariat and the masses fight for their own interests in these skirmishes against capital and its war economy.

Baboon, 30.7.18



[1] Much of this wholesale poisoning has been put down to the US/British-led Coalition's bombing campaigns and particularly through the spread of depleted uranium. The greatest scale of the damage and deformities are in the places bombed most: Fallujah and Basra. In London, the Ministry of Defence uses the old "there's no evidence" line and British politicians who are quick to denounce the chemical bombings of others haven't a word to say about their own atrocities.

[2]  It's not just in the Middle East that there's a lack of clean drinking water; according to the US Environmental Protection Agency more than five million Americans are exposed to drinking water containing toxins over safe levels (WSWS, 27.7.18). And, on a wider level, if Trump has generally rejected climate change, the Pentagon has not and, entirely in the interests of US imperialism, sees this, including water shortages, as a present danger - referenced by its National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate, 27.5.15.

[3] Al-Sadr has been touted by the west as "the new face of reform", New York Times, 20.5.18.