Across Iraq, a nation devastated by war and long-term political oppression, a “Day of Rage” on February 25 and continuing public demonstrations over the following weeks have seen thousands of citizens take to the streets. As political protests multiply across the Arab world, offering models of nonviolent transformation in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as a tragic war in Lybia, the international community and the media should look more closely at events in Iraq.
The great majority of Iraqi men and women who are marching do not aim to overthrow the government. Their goal is sweeping political reform – exposure of the widespread corruption that has paralyzed local and national government; demands for electricity, water, education, and jobs; and protection of human, women’s and workers’ rights.
Despite efforts by Iraq’s prime minister and some religious leaders to discourage the demonstrations, Iraqis asserted their right to public protest in city after city. In Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, Babylon, Salahuddin, Kut, Ramadi, Fallujah, Basra, Baghdad, and elsewhere, people’s actions revealed the growing strength of a civil society demanding reform of a political system that has failed to meet citizens’ needs.
Iraqi NGOs like the Civil Initiative to Preserve the Constitution, Future Network for Democracy, Youth on Facebook and many political parties called for demonstrations
to be peaceful and nonviolent. La’Onf Network proclaimed, “Nonviolence is the solution for reform in Iraq and to make Iraq a civil democracy. . . . In nonviolence people are not our enemies, it is injustice that we oppose . . . [Practice nonviolence] in order to promote change and prevent the return of dictatorship.”
Tragically, demonstrations did include violence. Government security forces fired on crowds; protesters in turn threw stones and set fire to public buildings in several locations. Twenty protesters were killed and dozens more were beaten and wounded. Civil society activists also face grave risks, as Iraqi security forces increase detention of protestors. Currently many activists’ whereabouts are unknown and they are presumed to be at high risk of torture.
There are also signs that the Iraqi government is trying to prevent future demonstrations. The Iraqi Nation Party and the Iraqi Communist Party offices were visited by dozens of armed security forces controlled by Prime Minister al-Maliki after the two parties helped lead demonstrations in Baghdad. The parties were ordered to close their offices in what they consider illegal efforts to stifle dissent and weaken them politically.
Still, the demonstrators can claim concrete victories. In Basra the provincial governor will step down amidst hopes that new leadership can provide better services for the citizens of that devastated region. The mayor and town council of a small city in far western Iraq have also submitted their resignations. But perhaps the greatest victory for Iraqi civil society lies in the courage and determination of the demonstrators. Despite arrests, despite threats to Iraqi journalists who are covering the demonstrations, despite government curfews, the Iraqi people are still marching.
The member organizations of the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative [ICSSI] insist that the Iraqi people’s right to demonstrate for an end to corruption and improved government services is inviolable. We urge all people and NGOs watching from the outside to join the ICSSI in support of the Iraqis’ struggle.
For more info. Contact Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative Website, or write to