Saturday, February 26, 2011








For weeks, protests were planned for today in Iraq. This was done publicly, not hidden away. Along with using Facebook, organizers and planned participants gave interviews to the press. Clerics publicly supported the protests at the start of the month. Nouri al-Maliki then began making weak, generic statements of support which seemed to be empty lip service forced by the actions of the clerics. Last Sunday, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani issued a statement of support for the protesters. Wednesday, things suddenly changed as Moqtada al-Sadr leaves Iran and shows back up in Iraq. He's had no interest in Iraq since his brief layover in January but suddenly he's back and insisting that the protests must stop. al-Sistani also says the protests need to stop. Nouri al-Maliki makes clear that he was just mouthing empty words as he now declares that the protests must stop and starts resorting to fear mongering by again trotting out his claims that Ba'athists, from outside the country, are behind the protests and that the protests will tear Iraq apart.
It wasn't just words. Alsumaria TV reports that attempts to stop the protests included curfews that immediatley went into effect in Samarra, Nineveh and Sulaimaniah. Al Mada quotes Nouri's desparate plea last night where he labeled the protests subversive and insisted that intellecturals, writers and civil society organizations, workers and peasants, doctors, institutions and scientists, teachers, engineers and everyone must not participate in the demonstration Friday, they must drop their objectives because the terrorists are using this event to advance their own interests. He continued that there was a "legitimate need" for basic services and reforms but this was trumped by "compelling evidence" that terrorists were behind the demonstrations in order to return Iraq to its "former Ba'ath era of black days and mass graves and chemical weapons and lack of freedoms."
No where in his speech claiming to understand the protesters did Nouri mention or acknowledge that Iraq's had one prime minister since 2006: himself. And that under his leadership for years now, basic services haven't been provided. He's lied. In 2009, trying to get votes for his candidates in provincial elections, he claimed basic services were just around the corner. He'd show up in towns with a large 'block' of ice to provide them fresh (temporary) drinking water and swear that their own safe water would flow shortly but he got the votes he wanted and discarded his promise. He did that over and over. The demands the Iraqis are making are not new demands that just surfaced in the last 48 hours. Justin Raimondo ( points out:
So this is why we killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, sacrificed thousands
of our own, and spent $3 trillion on "liberating" Iraq – so we could install this Gadhafi clone in office. Of course, Maliki hasn't unleashed his hired thugs
(hired by you) on the protesting populace quite yet – "only" three or four protesters have been killed, so far, in Iraq. Yet it isn't hard to imagine a
Libya-like scenario playing out in "liberated" Iraq: the country is a powder
keg waiting to go off.
Occupied Iraq where the war continues and gears up for its eight year mark next month. Occupied Iraq where billions in oil revenues flow into the government each year, where the population isn't even half a million, is barely over a quarter million, and yet the last eight years have seen an increase in poverty, an increase in an unemployment, destruction of infrastructure and basic services and much, much more. The government can't even provide safe drinking water. Iraqis had it before the start of the war. Now many are required to boil water before drinking it. Or there are those little purification tablets the UN passes out in order to mitigate the annual fall cholera outbreaks. The rivers are polluted -- which makes them unsafe for drinking as well -- as are the streets and basic sanitation is a problem. Basic electricity even more so as generators have had to become household items as common as stoves. The disabled, the widows and the orphans are largely left to fend for themselves with little help other than that provided by NGOs.
In this environment Moqtada al-Sadr waded in -- presumably doing the bidding of the government of Iran, the country he's made his home for how many years now? -- and declared that protests must cease immediately and that, instead, he'd hold another one of his wonderful (inept) referendums. The New York Times hailed Moqtada (wrongly) as second in influence in Iraq only to Nouri. What was going to happen?
Al Rafidayn reports Baghdad saw thousands congregate at Tahrir Square with the army and the police surrounding the area. Activist Lina Ali, who stood holding flowers while protesting in Tahrir Square, explains that electricity and potable water are not available. Al Mada adds comments from various people -- including some Iraqis -- about how the internet has changed things and offers, as one example, that Saudis twenty years ago didn't learn that Iraq had invaded Kuwait until three days after due to a media blackout; however, now the information travels. Ahmad Ezzeddine, Microsoft's director in Iraq, is quoted (from an interview with Alsumaria TV) stating that at one point Iraq's internet was a series of network connected to Dubai, England or Germany but today it is far greater and it's not as simple to block or censor. Iraq also now has over 45 satellite channels.

Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) notes military helicopters flew over Baghdad -- he doesn't note whose military: "As well as criticizing the demonstrators, the government has strictly limited freedom of movement across the capital in an attempt to curb Friday's protests. There has been an increase in military helicopter traffic and heightened security at checkpoints in the capital on Friday. In Baghdad's commercial district of Karrada, police and army officials are stopping and questioning pedestrians." Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) explains Baghdad "was virtually locked down" last night with a curfew imposed: "Near midnight Thursday, a red banner flashed across state television broadcasts announcing the curfew, a draconian measure more often deployed to deal with insurgent attacks." BBC News reports, "Soldiers blocked every road leading into Baghdad to try to stop protesters from carrying out their planned day of rage, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in the Iraqi capital. No vehicles were allowed into the city centre and thousands of riot police took up position in and around Baghdad Tahrir Square." Realizing at the last minute that the protesters weren't going to just drop the demonstration, Al Mada reports, the Baghdad Security Committee issued a desperate order that the protesters would not be allowed to carry "anti-government" banners. Despite this, Jane Arraf reported for Aljazeera that protesteros chanted "No to unemployment" and "No to the liar al-Maliki."
Alice Fordham and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) report, "In Baghdad, witnesses said security forces fired live ammunition and used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Many people were beaten and chased through the streets. No deaths were reported in the Iraqi capital." AFP adds, "A journalist said security forces had used a water cannon and tear gas in a bid to disperse the crowd. An interior ministry official said 15 people were wounded." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "Despite government attempts to portray the demonstration as politically motivated, many of the young men who raged against Mr. Maliki had much more basic reasons, complaining of a lack of jobs and public services and of the perception that in a country listed as among the world's most corrupt, officials are stealing the wealth." She quotes protester Oday Kareem stating, "I'm a laborer. I work one day and stay at home for a month. [. . .] He [Nouri al-Maliki] said people will do beter than they did under Saddam Hussein -- where is it?" For All Things Considered (NPR), Kelly McEvers filed a report which included:
But many of the protesters here calling Maliki a liar were young, unemployed men. They called for jobs, better electricity an end to corruption. They
repeated a word they'd heard in other protests around the region: peaceful, peaceful. But then one group toppled concrete blast walls blocking a bridge
to the fortifide Green Zone where Iraqi officials live and work. Riot police responded, protesters began throwing rocks. Okay, we're just beyond the
outskirts of what's going on but it's turned very violent, The sound you hear is people banging on corrugated steel as they are throwing rocks and clashing
with riot polie.
According to eyewitnesses, at least three protesters were shot dead by police during the standoff. Despite television footage to the contrary, the Baghdad Operation Command and Baghdad Police Department have denied that any protestors were killed or injured.
Multiple issues had helped bring out the protesters. Among the banners on display at Baghdad's Tahrir Square were, "Maliki has become just like Saddam," "We want the government to get rid of corruption and punish the corrupt," and "What happened to all the billions in oil revenue?" Many consider the lack of electricity, clean water and sanitation an insult for a nation known to have some of the world's largest proven petroleum reserves. As unemployed Baghdad resident Mohammed Khuadier al-Hamadani, 49, says, "There is no power, water , basic services, good infrastructure, food rations or jobs in a wealthy oil country like Iraq. This is unjust. They must stop this oppression. I want my share from oil just like the Gulf States. You know the Emir of Kuwait gave his citizens [profits and food rations]. Why can't we be just like them and have a prosperous life?"

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