On Friday up to 500,000 protesters took to the streets of Baghdad after a full week of escalating protests all across the southern and central areas of Iraq.
On Friday hundreds of thousands of Iraqis gathered on Baghdad’s Tahrir square, with Iraqi flags, protesting against the widespread corruption and sectarianism within the Iraqi regime. One popular slogan was “Secularism, secularism, no to Sunni, no to Shia” which was aimed at removing the sectarian representation system which was put into effect by the US occupation forces. Others called for the firing of the energy ministers while some called for the downfall of the whole government. Other slogans were, “All of you together to the court, all of you are thieves,” and “Friday after Friday, we’ll get the corrupt out.”
Large protests were similarly held across the southern, predominantly Shiite areas of Iraq, including in the cities of Basra, Najaf, Karbala, Nasiriyah and many more.
According to the Guardian, many demonstrators said they had come out to demand “a decent life.”
“For more than 10 years the government didn’t provide anything for us. No electricity, no services and no jobs,” Lamia Fadhil, 29, said. “That’s it. We’ve had enough.”
اليوم انتفظت ذي قار وصدح صوت ابنائها بالافها المتظاهره والمطالبه بحقوقهم وتصحيح مسار العمليه الصوره تتحدث عن صوت الشارع الرافض ……… ..؟؟؟Posted by صاجي ياسين الغزي on Sunday, 2 August 2015
“If anyone thinks this demonstration is targeting a minister or a certain official, I want to correct this and say it is against everyone who was responsible for the energy file from 2003 until now,” another protester, Jassem, told AFP.
Showing the radical mood another protester said: “The invasion took Iraq back 20 or 30 years,” adding that the current government was little better than American occupation. “This government will not be moved by protests, only by force.”
Friday’s mobilisation came on top of more than a week of mobilisations after a scorching heatwave brought the contradictions to a maximum. In some places this has taken a semi-insurrectionary character. In Samawa, south of Baghdad, protesters surrounded the governor’s house on Sunday evening and demanded that he resign.
"secularism, secularism, no to Shia, no to Sunni"Posted by مركز العلمانية في كردستان on Sunday, 9 August 2015
While temperatures have hovered around and above 50 degrees celsius, electricity supply has been a luxury for most Iraqis. Increasing power cuts due to chronic undersupply means that many areas only have a few hours of electricity per day.
Coupled with the rampant corruption which secures the elite more than enough electricity - either because they have stolen enough public money to be able to afford it or because they have used their state positions to secure constant electricity supply - tensions have been rising to new heights. This sparked the movement which, although it started as protests against the lack of electricity, quickly developed into a mass movement against corruption and sectarianism.
These protests, which are ongoing, have also coincided with a series of strikes and workers’ protests which have been on the rise for the past year where the Iraqi government, ridden with corruption and bankrupted by the civil war and falling oil prices, has taken its privatisation programme to new heights.
The Iraqi Worker Communist Party reported: “A full blown crisis of the collapse of the electricity system led to a massive new wave of protests on Tuesday including the people and workers of different ministries as well as the Ministry of Electricity in Baghdad and central and southern governorates. After about a week of protests by the employees of the Department of Transportation, who had not received their salaries, hundreds workers of the Ministry of Industry came out in a demonstration in front of the Finance Ministry building in central Baghdad to demand their salaries. … Our correspondents said the protesters threatened to start open-ended sit and escalate their protests if the ministry did not respond to their demands. Hundreds workers of the Ministry of Industry had previously been protesting non-payment of their salaries in central Baghdad and other provinces.” (August 4, 2015)
Very radical protest in BasraPosted by ابو رعود العراقي الاولى on Thursday, 23 July 2015
In Basra, the electrical workers union of belonging to the The Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq has in the forefront of organising the present protests. The FWCUI which organises thousands of workers throughout Iraq, has been fighting against the privatisation of the electricity grid and raising the slogans of workers control and management and even factory occupations in response to the privatisation drive of the government. This struggle has been been stepped up over the past week as it this struggle trying to argue the case to the mass of people who have been sucked into the struggle. Leading cadres of the FWCUI have been participating and addressing the mass protests throughout the country.
Protesters also gathered in front of the offices of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani who has been one of the most important political voices of Iraq, calling for popular mobilization against corruption. Last year, as the Iraqi state was losing control over large swathes of the country, Al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling for “popular mobilisation” against ISIS. This mobilised several hundred thousand, predominantly poor Shia youth, many of whom were organised into Popular Mobilisation Units, which were the main forces who effectively stopped the Iraqi state from falling apart.
Poverty and corruption
The war, however, has only served to raise the contradictions. Thousands of people are being sent to their death at the front fighting against IS without proper military training, plan or leadership. They are basically being used as cannon fodder, while their families suffer in deepest poverty. At the same time enormous wealth is seemingly disappearing into a void. In the governorate of Basrah alone, which has some of the world’s largest oil reserves, more than a third of the population live in poverty.
After the first protests in Basra at the end of July, the governor called a meeting of the provincial council. However, that session of the council was itself a testament to the complete lack of any kind of democratic procedures. According to one politician, Ahmad al-Sulaiti, a senior politician on the council and the chairman of the provincial committee for financial supervision, “The council itself is supposed to review the governor's work. To do this after only six months of the fiscal year goes against procedure.”
The Iraqi Ministry of Planning estimated that nearly 30 percent of Iraq’s population of over 33 million live below the poverty line, although the real figure is thought to be at least 10 percent higher.
The recent mass displacement of Iraqis from IS-controlled areas, unemployment, and the decline in revenues from crude oil which has been under pressure from the world capitalist crisis, has dramatically raised this figure which was hovering around 20-25 percent last year.
While these conditions haunt the vast majority of the population, corruption is rampant in the upper echelons of society. One economist said that “Any arrangements based on the government’s temporary material support make no sense, even if the necessary allocations are available in the general budget, because they consist of channels to legitimize corruption and waste public money.”
In Mahawil city, north of Babylon, a contractor with limited resources was paving a street. He told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “[I] only got a street pavement contract after hard efforts and after [I] had to offer employees and officials several gifts. I will do my best to do a good job, but the problem is the lack of allocated money.”
Makki Hassan, a member of the municipal council in the western Hamzah area, 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Babylon, told Al-Monitor, “The money allocated for projects is sufficient in most cases. But passing the money through intermediaries and chain contractors reduces effective spending on the project to no more than 20% of the original amount.”
Meanwhile the electricity grid, which was destroyed by the US occupation, is still only able to produce a maximum of 11,000 Megawatts - half of what the summer months demand - in spite of billions of dollars of investments into its modernisation.
The US occupation, in an attempt to carry out a classic divide and rule tactic, also implemented a system of proportional representation on sectarian basis throughout the Iraqi state machinery. This also means that corrupt politicians could remain in their seats in spite of low number of votes, only because of their sectarian background.
At the same time they have used sectarianism and the threat of a Sunni extremist takeover to spread fear and rally people behind them. The present movement however was in direct opposition to this from the beginning. In this powerful video from one of the earliest protests in Basra however, the slogans are aimed at all the dirty tactics of the bourgeoisie, attacking dictatorship, the government, the ruling party, the governor of Basrah, ISIS, religious laws, embezzlement of oil money, the courts, all the deputies of parliament -basically the whole establishment.
The ruling class shaken
This has been a big shock for the Iraqi ruling elite. One worrying sign, from their point of view, was the unusual nature of the protests in that they did not appear to have been called for by any major political party. People carried Iraqi flags and denounced all officials.
The New York Times reported: “Courteous police officers handed out water, a shift from earlier years when they responded harshly to electricity protests. One police officer there even denounced his commanders, saying they had sent him and other officers to infiltrate the protest as provocateurs. Instead, he had joined it in earnest.
“Shouting at a cellphone camera with the protest visible behind him, he said he was told to ‘ruin the protest.’ Cursing his boss by name and flashing a police identity card, he added, ‘We will continue calling for our demands even if you fire me.’”
The ruling class has been terrified that it cannot control this movement. While previous waves of protests have been met with repression, the balance of forces was far in favour of the movement this time. In one video in fact we can see several soldiers supplying water to the protesters. This shows the real balance of forces. The regime is incapable of intervening, especially because many of the protesters are from the armed Popular Mobilisation Units.
Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, called the protests an “early warning” system about “an error that we must solve immediately,” adding, “The people will resort to revolutionary sentiments if this situation continues.”
Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani also came out early warning the ruling class that “The people are still patient towards the sufferings, and also they are sacrificing themselves to fight Daesh terrorism to defend Iraq, but there are limits to patience.”
Already on Thursday July 30th, the prime minister declared a four-day weekend to keep people out of the sun, called in the electricity minister for emergency consultations, and ordered an end to one of the most coveted perks of government officials: round-the-clock power for their air-conditioners. Now, the scheduled daily power cuts that other Iraqis have long endured are to be imposed on government offices and officials’ homes. The government also cranked up the electricity grid to 11,000 megawatts, barely half of the summer’s peak demand of 22,000 megawatts.
Al Sistani’s representative however, being more in touch with the mood on the ground said that, “He must be more daring and courageous in his reforms. He should not be satisfied with some minor steps he recently announced. He should make the political parties accountable and identify who is hampering the march of reform, whoever they are.”
Abadi reacted immediately and promised to follow Sistani’s advice. “I declare my total commitment to the directions of the religious Marjaiya [Shia religious leadership], which has voiced the concerns and aspirations of the Iraqi people,” he said in a statement. He said he would draft a plan to fight graft and invited other political parties to contribute.
Finally yesterday Abadi presented a seven-point plan which is supposed to be a radical attack on the perks and privileges of government officials and an end to institutionalised sectarianism. The resolution, which will take effect immediately after its passing in parliament says:
“1) Complete & instant waning of security personnel for ALL high officials, & redirecting all security personnel to the Ministry of Defense to be trained & defend the country on the forefront.
2) Rescinding all exclusivity (in terms of treatment, priority, etc.) allocated to high government positions, including retired personnel.
3) A ban on the application of a quota system on high positions in Ministries, Independent Commissions, advisors, etc. The PM will form a committee to oversee the sacking of unqualified personnel, and their replacement on the basis of merit.
4) Condensing ministries and institutions to raise qualification & efficiency standards, as well as cost reduction.
5) Dissolving the positions of Deputies to the President, and to the Prime Minister immediately.
6) Revisiting old and current corruption cases under the supervision of a High Commission to fight corruption, comprised of experts, as well as appointing judges to oversee these cases known for their untainted integrity.
7) A call to the Cabinet of Ministers, then Parliament, to approve these measures, in order for the Prime Minister to respond to the people’s demands made through the Marja’iya or High Religious Establishment’s [in Najaf].”
This is a major victory for the movement and it will give the masses confidence in their own powers. This will lead to even bigger clashes between the classes in the future.
It is clear that the regime is extremely weak. In fact the main legitimacy does not lie within the state, but with the clerical caste who has had a long history of working with all the different rulers of Iraq. However, even the authority of Al Sistani, its most influential representative, is limited. By mobilising and arming the poorest layers of the population he has also created a force which he cannot control as easily. Many of the protesters on the streets were in fact these militiamen who feel the effects of the corruption and decay more than any other layer in society and pay for it with their lives.
For many of these armed groups, the Iraqi government has no authority and even though they have been formally incorporated into the armed forces it is clear that they are independent forces in themselves. In fact they have only been incorporated to save the Obama administration from the humiliation of officially acknowledging that they are fighting with Shia militias against ISIS.
But while these masses were mobilised on a sectarian basis, these protests yet again go to show that even when the revolutionary process might seem to be extinguished, the class struggle will continue to dig its way beneath the surface of society. Such a movement taking place in Iraq, a country torn apart by the reactionary profiteers of sectarianism, terrorism and war, is a powerful reminder of that fact.
In fact a revolutionary movement was already developing in Iraq during the height of the Arab revolution. Protests which started in the Sunni areas quickly spread to the east and south calling for an end to corruption and sectarian rule. There were even protests in the kurdish areas of the country, where the ruling clique answered with violence. However, in all of iraq, without a revolutionary leadership the movement was gradually pushed aside and ISIS stepped into the power vacuum left by it. That shock was also the end of the movement in the Shia dominated areas, as the masses were mobilised to wage war against Sunni extremism.
The contradictions, however, have not been solved. The horrors of war have only served to magnify them. While the masses of all origins are asked to make enormous sacrifices, the ruling elite is busy looting the state. While unemployment is on the way up the rulers privatise hundreds of factories only to loot them for machinery and stocks.
Some of the militia factions have been trying to use the movement to rally support behind Abadi. Qais al-Khazali, who heads the powerful Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, put forward a demand for the abolition of Iraq’s elected parliament and its replacement with a presidential system. “If you think you can carry out reforms, we are with you. If you think you can’t, resign.”
There is a conscious attempt to portray Abadi as a good honest bourgeois democrat, who is “unfortunately” caught in the spider web of Iraqi politics. This is however a false picture. The present movement is in fact a testament that the only force that can achieve real change is the movement of the masses. For years the demands of the masses have been clear and the answer has been the same: “it is a long process” etc. But within a week of protests many demands were met outright and although Abadi hesitated the movement pushed him to concede far more than he was initially willing to do.
Fight the ruling class
The crisis of Iraq is a continuation of the crisis of capitalism, magnified by 100 years of imperialist pillage and plunder. The only way to overcome it is by discarding the system as a whole. The bourgeoisie are terrified of this prospect. Behind the slick and sanitised facade, the ruling classes of the region are gripped by fear and panic at the prospect of the rising class struggle. They will do whatever it takes to divert it, but they are doomed to fail. In every country their attempts are hampered by the deep crisis of capitalism coupled with the inherent greed and degeneracy of their class at this stage. Every attempt they make to stabilise the situation leads to new fronts opening up and historical necessity imposing itself on them.
In the last period the regime has been able to claim that the fight against ISIS is more important. The commander of the Iranian backed Badr Brigade, Hadi al-Amiri, said that the main target of IS remains the Iraqi capital. “We do not lie to the Iraqi people; the threat of terrorism posed by IS militants is there,”
Nevertheless, it is clear to a growing layer that the problem of fighting ISIS cannot be solved without dealing with the rotten Iraqi regime. At the front the thousands of young Shia fighters can see that instead of fighting against sectarianism and barbarism, they are used as pawns in the petty power politics of a narrow ruling clique. Instead of liberating areas from ISIS they are used to fight dirty turf wars of local and national oligarchs and their offensives are often stalled by the petty haggling for contracts and concessions.
At present, the protests are still ongoing although the protesters have given the government a week to carry out its promises. At yesterday's protest one popular chant was “brothers Sunni, Shia, we will not sell this country”.
This is an absolutely correct slogan. The only way to win the struggle is to cut through the sectarian divides whipped up by US imperialism and the ruling class and to unify all the oppressed peoples of Iraq against oppression and misery. This is what all the ruling classes of the Middle East, along with their western allies, fear the most, that the people of the region should unite on class lines. As long as the present corrupt rulers are in place in Baghdad, Iraq will not be able to be unified and the people will be played against each other to the benefit of the rulers of each sect. This movement thus is a threat to all the rulers, whether Kurdish, Shia or Sunni, who have been using the sectarian divide to prop up their own base. It is also the greatest threat against IS whose strongest weapon has been the distrust and hatret of the Sunni population against the Shia sectarians in Baghdad.
At the same time however, the movement can only be successful if it works with the correct methods and succeeds in giving itself a program which can unite all the oppressed and at the same time challenges the root cause of all the problems in society, the capitalist system. To achieve that, it should call in the organised working class and prepare for a general strike demanding the re-nationalisation of the industries and major companies to be run under the democratic management and control of the workers themselves.
The Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, has been raising the idea of nationalisations, workers control and even factory occupations as they have addressed the mass protests in Baghdad and in many other cities around the country. For the past year they have been waging a struggle against privatisation in many of the areas which are seeing protests today and they were one of the first groups to organise the demonstrations.
These are very important steps for the movement as a whole. The entrance of the Iraqi working class onto the scene can not only secure victory for the movement, but also set a marvelous example for the workers throughout the region.
Only by taking control over the economy as a whole can the masses overcome corruption, inefficiency and unemployment and rebuild the country. This is absolutely vital for the movement not to stagnate, ebb and become vulnerable to influence by reactionary forces. As we can see from the reports, the state is already trying to manoeuvre against the movement in various ways. Thus no trust can be put in the official authorities to protect the people and their interests. Therefore committees must be set up in every neighbourhood, factory and school to protect the communities from police aggression and infiltration as well as sectarian attacks which might be used by reactionaries to cut across the rising class struggle, as we have seen so many times in the past. They could also ensure the implementation of the measures which the movement has already won and if necessary, to take over state functions to implement them itself.
The movement in Iraq is testament to the fact that the Arab revolution is far from finished. In every country, beneath the surface, a burning anger is looking for an outlet. The ruling class is in panic, because it has fewer and fewer tools to control the movements. If the movement in Iraq is victorious it could be the spark that rekindles the flame of revolution in the region. This would cut through the period of reaction which has been weighing on the region and change the whole situation.
The same contradictions which exist in Iraq are present in every single country of the Middle East and every ruling elite is only hanging on to power, not due to their strength and legitimate support in society, but due to the lack of a leadership to galvanise the anger of the masses and take power. For the workers of Iraq there is only one way, forward. They cannot trust any other power, but their own. All other forces have proven to be incapable of providing a civilised existence for the masses. Only by taking power into their own hands can they raise themselves above the present state of barbarism and want caused by a sick system in decline.