Over the past few months, protesters from my home country of Iraq have been facing live ammunition and tear gas bombs for demanding some of their most basic rights. Being thousands of miles away, I am not sure any of my efforts or commentary will help my friends and family. But my silence certainly will not. With this article, I hope to make the Iraqis’ demands louder and clearer and to provide insight into the Iraqi reaction to Qassim Soleimani’s assassination which took place in Baghdad, Iraq.
Yet again, the Iraqi people have found themselves caught in a larger international power struggle. To be precise, Iraq has been in an unenviable situation throughout the past few decades with foreign meddling, armed conflict and opposing militias. Recently, the country has been the target of strikes whilst experiencing nationwide protests. The Iraqi protests are calling for immediate action towards ending foreign meddling and domestic corruption. Most of the protesters are young men and women who have no political representation and no hope of economic opportunities. The governmental response has been deadly, with the death toll rising to above 700 people and about 15,000 injured.
A closer look at the protests shows a much more complicated situation. One of the most prominent Shiite clerics, Muqtada Al Sadr, has announced his withdrawal from the Iraqi protests. Al Sadr has a huge following of those who have been participating in the protests. His base and militias have been able to keep the protesters relatively safe, from confrontation between Al Sadr’s militias and other pro-Iranian militias. However, most of the Al Sadrists left the protests after this announcement, leaving the civil non-affiliated Iraqis with the risk of bigger government crackdowns.
The death of Soleimani took much of the needed attention off the protesters’ demands. The very next day after the strike, Iraqis both mourned and celebrated the death of the Iranian General within miles of each other. While the civil protesters were giving out Baklava and dancing in happiness, religious militias organized memorials for the two leaders, Soleimani and Al Muhandis, the leader of Kataib Hezbollah, and protests against the United States. Soleimani was the commander of the Quds force and the mastermind behind many of Iran’s advances in the region.
The militia protests showed that the heavily secured Green Zone in Baghdad is secured against the Iraqi people but open to Iranian interests of removing the US. presence and ending the civil protests. For the past few months, civil protesters who tried to enter the Green Zone were shot dead. While the pro-Iranian militants protesting the US embassy were able to enter the Green Zone within one day. It does not take much observation to notice the number of different flags and agendas in the US embassy riots, which shows that those protests are not related to the popular Tahrir Square protests in Baghdad and are not in the interest of the Iraqi youth. One thing all Iraqis can agree on is that no one wanted Sulimani’s strike to happen inside of Iraq, leading to a potential proxy war between Iran and the United States inside the borders of Iraq. Despite all the losses, these protests show a kindle of hope in moving past sectarian and ethnic violence. Iraqis from dominantly Shiite and Sunni cities alike are protesting the presence of Iranian militias and the American military with a famous chant of “إيران برا برا بغداد تبقى حرة” which roughly translates to “Iran out, out. Baghdad stays free!” It is unclear what the future holds for Iraq, as the political scene is in rapid transformation. The Iraqi youth remains united in rejecting corrupt political figures and foreign interests.