Major, nationwide protests are currently raging throughout Iraq. Beginning in Basra among young oil workers demanding jobs for locals, the movement has spread to other major cities in Iraq. As reported by Human Rights Watch, during the protests, which began earlier in July, peaceful demonstrators, including children, have been targeted, killed, wounded, and arrested by Iraqi security forces, paramilitary forces and militias run by members of the political elite. Demonstrators are mainly young people, and while there are no centralized leader or political party affiliations, their demands are clear.
Protesters are calling for fundamental necessities like clean running water, electricity, healthcare, and jobs. However, they signal a deeper call for human dignity and for radical political change in Iraq. In the aftermath of the highly contested national elections this past May, which were criticized by many as a facade and marked by a low turnout at the polls, many Iraqis are refusing to adhere to political party affiliations. Although primarily targeting corrupt Iraqi officials and elites, Iraqis are decrying the discourse suggesting democracy has been achieved in Iraq, which was and continues to be touted by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the international community. While major, nationwide protests have taken place periodically since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with notable upsurges in 2011 and 2015, it is also important to recognize that Iraqis have demanded their dignity and freedom during the decades of dictatorship, wars, and sanctions well before 2003.
In order for justice to be served, it is imperative to recognize the brutality not only of the corrupt Iraqi state and its attendant security forces and militias, which have met the protests with violence and an internet blackout, but also the culpability and complicity of regional and international actors. Political powers such as the US administration who champion Iraq’s “democracy” are simultaneously funneling resources into bolstering the militarization of the Iraqi state through anti-riot gear and aggressive police and SWAT forces. They are actively contributing to the disintegration of Iraqi society through campaigns eroding and limiting Iraq’s access to its own natural resources. It is within this context that crimes like the assassination of Jabbar Mohammed Karam al-Bahadli, a lawyer in Basra providing free legal support to detained protesters, are allowed to occur. The same political powers who supported the military forces leading the battle against ISIS in Mosul in the name of defending Iraq’s stability are simultaneously complicit in the violent oppression of Iraqi society.
As members of the Iraqi Transnational Collective, we strongly condemn the Iraqi government’s horrific attacks against protesters, and its complicit silence regarding the violence of paramilitary groups and militias killing, wounding and threatening the protesters. Iraqis have admirably continued to resist their subjugation over the course of decades of hardship. We urge all those responsible — within and outside Iraq’s borders — to be held accountable not only for these individual attacks, but for upholding the broader powers and policies under which Iraqis continue to suffer. We stand in solidarity with the resilient people of Iraq.