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Revenge and fuelling sectarian war in Iraq

January 24, 2014 at 2:38 am

Number of Iraqi and US deaths during the 2003 Iraq war [Eddie McHugh/Flickr]

The “new Iraq” government and its media are beating the drums of comprehensive sectarian strife. The Iraqi people, drowning in a flood of poverty, poor education and health provision, the destruction of the infrastructure, and corruption, as well as sectarian discrimination, are being exposed to a campaign of intimidation and terror.

The media is contributing by broadcasting scrolling news banners with one tactical message: support for the “revenge campaigns” which Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki says he is leading against “terrorists” and Al-Qaeda. The facts are, however, somewhat different to what the media would have us believe.

Such campaigns have been launched against anti-government demonstrators in Al-Karama and Al-Izza Squares for a year. They are protesting about raids by security forces, torture and arrests, of women in particular, as well as the sectarianism rooted in the country’s system of governance. Since the beginning of the protests, the government’s response has been to charge the protesters with “terrorism”; it denied the existence of female detainees altogether, all the while using them as pawns for prisoner swaps. This happened a few days ago when they released 10 female detainees whose existence the government had originally denied.

The government wasted no time in portraying protestors as “Al-Qaeda terrorists”, which was helped by the carrot and stick approach used in the country, as well as the US policy which depends on the presence of a foreign enemy. Al-Maliki’s latest threats of burning protest tents and surrounding them with soldiers are the same as those he made during the early days of the sit-ins, in which thousands of people from six provinces participated despite the threats and the arrests and killings of protest leaders and religious figures.

The prime minister’s campaigns of intimidation and liquidation have even been extended to members of parliament who dared to support the protesters. Special Forces (known as the “dirty group”) raided Ahmed Al-Alwani’s home early on Saturday morning, injuring the MP’s wife, killing six security guards and family members, and wounding ten others, including children. The troops executed Al-Alwani’s brother in front of his wife and family and took the MP himself in handcuffs to an unknown location before imposing a curfew.

In order to convey Al-Alwani as a terrorist and Al-Qaeda member rather than the victim of the government’s state terrorism, confessions by “members of Al-Qaeda” were broadcast on television. They claimed to have used the sit-in in the main square in Al-Anbar as a “safe haven” for the group, and that some of the cars used in bombings were prepared there. Human rights organisations say that all such confessions were made under torture, so they are unreliable, to say the least.

Some Iraqi media have published humiliating pictures depicting the treatment of Ahmed Al-Alwani and his brother, including his brother’s head being stepped on by a member of the Special Forces. This is reminiscent of how the American occupation treated Iraqi detainees, killing them under torture and then raising the victory sign over their bodies. Is this the kind of victory that the “new Iraq” government wants to achieve?

The media is also involved in promoting government propaganda about how it is bringing “security and stability” to Iraq and creating an environment for national reconciliation. Al-Maliki is always described therein as “Prime Minister and Commander of the Armed Forces” when he feels the need to protect himself and his interests. Blurry images of military operations of the kind seen during the US-led occupation cannot be checked for their authenticity. The message is that Iraq’s “brave soldiers” have managed to eliminate Al-Qaeda leaders and recruits as well as find files with lists of the names of other recruits.

News broadcasts revolve mostly around the arrival of advanced weapons and missiles to be used to continue the nightly battles in the Al-Anbar Desert, often ahead of schedule and in US aircraft. Drones, it is said, are on the way too. Who is taking care of the training for the use of this equipment? We are not told, but there does seem to be a degree of Iran-US involvement in favour of Al-Maliki.

When we see that the acting defence minister, Saadoun Al-Dulaimi, is ready to broker a deal with protesters to release Ahmed Al-Alwani in return for them leaving the squares, we can see what sort of unlawful state Iraq has become. Shouldn’t the minister be accused of dealing with “terrorists and Al-Qaeda” by striking a deal with the protesters?

The revenge campaigns waged by the sectarian government will not solve the disaster of the daily bombings and killings, especially since the prevalent belief on the street is that these operations are carried out by militias and groups associated with the government. It is also known that “Al-Qaeda” is used often as the scapegoat in operations carried out by domestic groups, as well as some linked to the US.

The fact remains that the responsibility for security and preserving the right to a dignified life falls first and foremost on the government. I have never heard of a government that launches revenge campaigns against its own citizens, regardless of the reasons. Even the US response to avenge the victims of the September 11 attacks was against another country. “Revenge is always the weak pleasure of a little and narrow mind,” said the Roman poet Juvenal. In Al-Maliki’s case such revenge will not only lead to a sectarian war (which has probably already started) but will also lead to the disintegration of Iraq, the impact of which no one can escape. In the absence of law and order, including a fair judiciary, and with revenge as a motive, every murder will be followed by another. The current government is digging its own grave and we can expect a US-Iranian agreement on the division of Iraq and sharing of the spoils.

The injustice that dominates life in Iraq is the cause of the sit-ins. Until and unless the government recognises the legal, constitutional and humanitarian rights of the people, this will remain, and so will the protesters.

The author is an Iraqi novelist. This a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in Al Quds Al Arabi on 30 December, 2103.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.