Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Iraq in Crisis

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Iraq in Crisis

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION: AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROTESTS IN IRAQ

As part of what has been widely dubbed the "Arab Spring," protests began in Iraq on January 30, 2011, when two marches were held in Baghdad. 1 The first demonstration consisted of a crowd of around 100 protestors in Firdos Square, where the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down during the 2003 invasion. While the intention was in part to show solidarity with the demonstrators in Egypt, who were pressing for the removal of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak from power at the time, those involved in the Iraqi protests had their own demands as well, including better governance, public services, and security. Another protest, also with 100 demonstrators, took place on that day in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, by the Green Zone. Similar to the Firdos Square protest, demonstrators called for improved public services but also demanded that authorities not evict squatters from public buildings.

The following month, the protests began to escalate, resulting in outbreaks of violence. For example, on February 3, 2011, 1,000 people protested outside the local government building in Hamza, in the Diwaniya Province (about 180 kilometers south of Baghdad), 2 complaining of poor sanitation. The demonstrators threw rocks at the offices, and local police forces subsequently opened fire to disperse the crowd, leaving three protestors wounded and four police officers injured. Two days later, demonstrators hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails attempted to break into a government building and police station in the town. 3 Security forces again opened fire, killing one and wounding at least four. This marked the first fatality as a result of the Iraqi protests.

The demonstrations and unrest peaked on February 25, 2011, which was declared the "Day of Rage" for the protest movement. Rallies were held throughout the country. Around 5,000 people gathered in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, the crowd throwing stones, shoes, and plastic bottles at riot police. Soldiers were also required to block off a bridge connecting Tahrir Square to the city's Green Zone, where the Iraqi parliament and U.S. embassy are located. 4 At least fifteen protestors were killed during the "Day of Rage." 5 Demonstrations became particularly violent in the Kurdistan region during the month of February 2011. For instance, on February 17, two people were killed and 40 wounded after police fired bullets at a rally in the town of Sulaymaniya, where hundreds of young men, chanting slogans against corruption and high unemployment attempted to storm the town's local government offices.6

Following the "Day of Rage," protests continued but diminished slightly in magnitude both in terms of the numbers of demonstrators and the level of violence. The demonstrations have not approached the scale of those in Syria and Bahrain. In March 2011, new demonstrations arose to denounce the intervention of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Bahrain. On March 16, followers of the Shi'i cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held marches in Baghdad and Basra in solidarity with the predominantly Shi'i demonstrators in Bahrain, decrying the intervention of GCC troops. 7 The next day, several hundred Shi'a protested in the Shi'i holy city of Karbala in the south of Iraq.8 The following month, even fewer demonstrations were reported. On April 20, however, in Kurdistan, Iraqi troops were called in to prevent protestors from gathering in locations such as Sulaymaniya University, the town's main square, and other sites, according to residents.9 In addition, thousands of Sadrists held a protest march in Baghdad on April 9 to denounce the presence of U.S. troops in the country, with senior Sadr aide Hazim al-Araji threatening violent reprisals should they fail to leave by the end of 2011 as scheduled, as outlined in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).10 The SOFA stipulates a deadline for complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by December 31, 2011. …

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