Iraqis Take to the Streets, Call for Real Democracy
David Bacon, Truthout, March 25, 2011
The war in Iraq is supposedly over. The US administration says the occupation, which began on March 20 eight years ago, is ending as well, with the withdrawal of US combat troops. But as the US, Great Britain and France begin another military intervention in North Africa, their respective administrations are silent about the price Iraqis are paying for the last one.
The Iraqis, however, are not remaining silent. Demonstrations have taken place in Baghdad, Basra and Kirkuk, among other cities, calling on the US in particular to stop its escalating military intervention in Libya. Iraqi unions have been especially vocal, linking the US invasion of Iraq with continued misery for its working people. According to one union representative, Abdullah Muhsin of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), “Eight years have ended since the fall of Saddam’s regime, yet the empty promises of the ‘liberators’ – the invaders and the occupiers who promised Iraqis heaven and earth – were simply lies, lies and lies.”
The GFIW, which supported the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, says the US should “allow the people of Libya, Bahrain and other countries to determine their own destiny by themselves.” Falah Alwan, president of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, says violence directed against workers and unions is intended to keep a lid on protests against miserable living conditions. “We are still under occupation,” he charges. “The new Iraqi army, created by the US occupation, is doing the same job, protecting the corrupt government while we are suffering from the difficulties of daily life.”
“There’s no electricity most of the time and no drinking water – no services at all,” says Qasim Hadi, president of the Union of Unemployed of Iraq (UUI). Eight years after the start of the US military intervention, “there’s hardly even any repair of the war damage – there’s still rubble in the streets. People are going hungry.”
Despite often extreme levels of violence in the years of occupation, Iraqis have never stopped protesting these conditions. When demonstrations broke out in other countries of the Middle East and North Africa, people in Baghdad, Basra and Kirkuk had been taking to the streets for years. In large part, protests continued in Iraq because living conditions never changed, despite promises of what the fall of Saddam Hussein would bring.
“There has basically been no change in the unemployment situation since the occupation started,” Hadi charges. “There are more than 10 million unemployed people in Iraq – about 60-70% of the workforce.” According to the UUI, government unemployment statistics are artificially low because they don’t count many people. “Women aren’t counted,” Hadi says, citing just one example, “because the government says their husbands or fathers are responsible for supporting them.”
Hadi was one of Baghdad’s first protesters, leading marches of unemployed workers to the gates of the Green Zone, where US occupation chief Paul Bremer had his offices, almost as soon as Bremer moved in. On July 25, following the May 2003 invasion, Hadi was arrested by US troops for protesting. For the next six years, he led one protest after another, making the UUI a thorn in the side, first of the US occupation administration, and then of the Iraqi regimes that followed.