Unresolved issues, Fallujah and Iraqi protests

The Washington Post, the ‘liberal’ mouthpiece of the US ruling class, published an interesting article earlier this month examining the latest round of protests to erupt in Fallujah, Iraq, against the current Iraqi regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In similar tactics used by other Arab protesters in this Arab Awakening, the mainly Sunni demonstrators in Fallujah have risen up because of unresolved grievances since the armed truce of 2008-09 and the purported withdrawal of American forces in 2011. Although the US withdrawal was accompanied with great fanfare, the US has mandated a more discreet, clandestine presence in Iraq through its intelligence services, special force operatives and armed mercenaries. The withdrawal was more about removing the immediate, direct presence of the US and rebranding the occupation in more disguised form. But make no mistake, the withdrawal of US forces from the major cities of Iraq represents a serious defeat for US policy in that country.

The current peaceful protests in Iraq, triggered by the sacking and suppression of Iraqi Sunni politicians in Maliki’s coalition government, actually reflect wider political and social grievances that stem from the destructive US invasion of that country and the failure of the current Iraqi government. The Sunni Iraqis feel disenfranchised and ignored by the current Maliki administration, and have campaigned to remove the sectarian influence of the Shia-dominated Baghdad government. Maliki has accused the protests of being orchestrated by external powers, namely the Sunni regimes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. His accusations are unfounded and reflect a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the real, unresolved grievances of the Iraqi population. The protesters denounce the sectarian hostility of the Maliki government, the widespread corruption and use of torture, the lack of employment and education, the breakdown of basic social services, and the general economic downturn that has afflicted Iraq since the US invasion.

The Iraqis on the streets of Fallujah are motivated by the historic and unbroken line of Iraqi Arab nationalism. The Iraqi people have carried out several nationalist uprisings throughout the twentieth century. The Iraqis first rose in 1920 against the British colonial regime and its puppets, the royalist dictatorship of King Faisal I. In 1958, the British-supported monarchy was overthrown in a nationalist revolution, and ushered in the period of Republican Iraq and Ba’athist Party political domination. It is no secret that the rise and rule of Saddam Hussein, a Ba’athist official, was supported and nurtured by US intelligence agencies, namely the CIA. Hussein was a key asset for the United States throughout the 1980s in Iraq’s long and savage war against Iran. The Ba’athist party controlled the police state apparatus of the regime, and committed its worst crimes against the Iraqi Kurds and Shias while receiving military arms and largesse from the imperialist powers. The Ba’athist regime promoted Iraqi nationalism, through its educational policies, identifying the Babylonian and Islamic heritage of the country with the Hussein regime.

The first American attack on Iraq in 1991, and the subsequent sanctions regime, reduced the economic and social health of the country. But the 2003 US invasion brought death and destruction to a relatively developed society, destroying the electricity, health and education infrastructure of the country. The American-installed regime, having swept out the Ba’athist Party from power, resorted to extreme violence, torture and sectarian killing to suppress the population. After the mass insurgency by the Iraqi people throughout the mid-2000s, the Maliki regime came to an arrangement of sorts to end the immediate violence and include various Shia militias in a new political setup. However, Maliki is entirely dependent on the United States and Iran, the latter having gained an increased presence in the country with the removal of the Hussein regime. Iraqi government forces, trained and armed by the United States, have attacked the recent protests.

It is important to view these protests not just as a ‘Sunni’ concern, but rather a resurgence of Iraqi Arab nationalist political motivation. The demands of the protesters are not confined to a purely sectarian viewpoint – they are articulating basic demands for an improved economic and political system. Among their list of demands is the release of political prisoners, and end to torture and the death penalty, the provision of health and electricity services to impoverished communities, to stop corruption and to fight against sectarianism.

Patrick Cockburn, writing in Counterpunch, has explained that this revolt is motivated by domestic concerns, grievances that have remained unaddressed since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He writes that Maliki does not have the force to suppress this revolt;

It is unlikely the Maliki government would succeed where Saddam and the US failed. It has military superiority but not dominance in Iraq, fully controlling only about half the country. It has no authority in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s three provinces or in the Kurdish-held disputed territories further south. Its authority is contested in the Sunni majority provinces and cities in western and central Iraq.

Go read Cockburn’s complete article here.

The Iraqi revolt has demolished the myth peddled by the corporate media that the Iraqi war is ‘all over’. The protesters are responding to the unhealed wounds and divisions caused by the US occupation and its compliant tool, the Maliki regime. They give hope that the Iraqis are rising up to assert their legitimate demands to repair the damage done by the US war and sectarian division.

6 thoughts on “Unresolved issues, Fallujah and Iraqi protests

  1. Thanks, Rupen, for this eloquent narration of the continuity between 20th century Arab nationalism in Iraq and the current protests.

    Just one question: while Maliki’s accusation about foreign instigation of the protests is no doubt a convenient way “to deflect attention from the real, unresolved grievances of the Iraqi population”, is it unfathomable that foreign powers would, indeed, instigate or use such demonstrations for their own geopolitical ends? If the US, Iran etc are doing this, surely the Saudis and others would want to join in the game, so as to assert their own presence in (what is left of) Iraq.

  2. Rupen, this is a really heartwrenching article. I’ts superb. I’m too moved to comment at the moment. I’ll read it again tomorrow.

  3. The enormity of the suffering due to US interventions in Iraq is difficult to imagine. What a criminal, terrorist, merciless regime.

  4. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful responses.

    To answer Armen’s question – it is very fathomable that foreign powers use demonstrators to further their own political ends. The Arab Awakening in Iraq has been completely ignored, even opposed, by the petro-monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, yet the fundamentalist-dominated groupings that are fighting the regime in Syria have received favourable media coverage and military support from these very same monarchies. The different responses reflect the geopolitical agendas of these reactionary states, backed up by the United States and other imperialist powers.

    If we are to examine the impact of foreign intervention in Iraq, let’s start with the obvious – the Maliki regime, propped up by foreign guns and bullets. In fact, in one of those ironies of imperialist politics, Maliki is a leading member of the Islamic Da’awah Party, a political party with strong ideological ties to Tehran. The party on which the Americans rely in Iraq is tied to the foreign power they tried to exclude from Iraq since the 1980s by backing Saddam Hussein’s eight-year long war with Iran. Iranian influence in Iraq has actually increased because of the 2003 American invasion.

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