Friday, February 25, 2011

Today's Iraq Protests

Today saw protests throughout Iraq, and six protestors were killed by government security forces. As with other recent protests in Iraq, these are connected to the broader wave of protests in the Arab world these past two months, but Reidar Visser usefully highlights their specific Iraqi context:
"Indeed, the striking aspect of today’s demonstrations was their national character. For one thing, we have seen Kurds rise up against the dominant Kurdish parties, Shiites challenging the hegemony of Maliki’s own 'all-Shiite' alliance, and Sunnis complaining against their Sunni local politicians. The cries for better services and employment conform to a universal pattern that has been in emergence over the past few weeks. But more importantly, in terms of slogans and demands, there are signs of a true synthesis of genuine nationwide opposition to the supposed 'government of national partnership' that was formed, tentatively at least, in December 2010...

"In Dhi Qar, demonstrators demanded better services, an end to corruption, and, importantly, criticised the system of ethno-sectarian quota-sharing that forms the basis for all of Iraq’s post-2003 government and that is supported by the United States and Iran alike. In Baghdad, protestors are trying to destroy the concrete blast walls put up by the United States since 2007 in its own attempt to engineer 'sectarian' reconciliation, American-style, and are calling for a unified Sunni–Shiite political project, with echoes from the uprising against the British in 1920. Again, this seems to indicate a desire for more profound reforms and system change. Some of the activists are highlighting the absence of properly elected local councils at the sub-governorate level across Iraq as one very immediate grievance."

One again, it needs to be emphasized that Iraq's sectarian divisions are not timeless enmities, which of course never actually exist, nor are they that comparable to the ethnic nationalism of post-communist eastern Europe. Alongside them there is an ideal of Iraqi nationalism among Arabs, which is why we see factions competing for the apparatus of the central state with regional autonomy as simply an occasional fallback position. Grassroots counter-sectarian activism is plausible, quite possibly sustainable, and welcome, and if the Kurds want to join in, then so much the better.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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