When the Iraqis took to the streets in 16 of the 18 Iraqi governorates in 2011, the "silent" Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists, invisible to the public, spoke up and warned the protestors against bad services and corruption as well as from the exploitation of their protests by "infiltrators" trying to harm Iraq.
Nouri Al-Maliki, the prime minister at the time and who is backed by the Guardianship, had labelled the peaceful protestors as terrorists. The day before the protest, Al-Maliki made a nationally televised statement on an official Iraqi television channel saying: "I call upon you not to participate in tomorrow's demonstration because it is suspicious… those behind this protest are Saddamists, terrorists and Al-Qaeda."
The result was shots being fired at the protestors and the death of 29 of them, including one child. Nearly 300 people were arrested, including prominent journalists, artists and lawyers, as a means of intimidation. In addition to the Guardianship, i.e. Ali Al-Sistani, Muqtada Al-Sadr also proposed, during the most critical time of the sectarian government, to give the government 100 days to make reforms. This, along with the campaigns of threats, enticements and arrests, was another means of distracting the protestors from their main goals and dissolving their issues and causes, thus ending the campaign demanding their rights.
Just as the government forces escaped those demanding their basic rights in 2011, the same forces returned in the present day after mass demonstrations began in many cities, extending from northern Iraq to the south to escape and avoid these demonstrators. However, they did so by means of a different tactic than the last time. The government did not use force against the protestors and did not open fire on them. Instead, all of the politicians rushed to declare their solidarity with the demonstrators against corruption. It is as if corruption is a disease placed in Iraq from an outside force and they have nothing to do with it. They condemned and denounced.
Some of them took to the television stations to express their "concerns" regarding the corruption hindering the oppressed people's access to electricity, just as the good-hearted United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did.
Others threatened to open the corruption file (for the hundredth time, at the very least) in order to prosecute those responsible and expel the unqualified. The step of containing demonstrations and dissolving the people's demands reached its peak when the corrupt politicians themselves, including officials and beneficiaries from the various parties and militias, joined the masses in the squares to protest in various Iraqi cities. They did so to carry out acts they have mastered over the past 13 years: theft, looting and blaming others.
Not even the protestors' squares, slogans and legitimate demands have been spared by the hungry hands accustomed to looting. Suddenly the people's tragedies became theirs. Muqtada Al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement, was among those who woke up from their slumber to the voices of the protesters. He called on Haider Al-Abadi, to "form independent committees in his direct administration to refer the corruption and corrupt individuals' files from the former and current governments to the attorney general's office."
Iraqi Vice President Usama Al-Nujayfi followed in his footstep and renewed "his support for the voices of the protestors" and criticised corrupt officials, even though he is one of the defendants in a serious corruption case. Iraqi President Fuad Masum stressed the "right of the people to free expression of their rights, demands and the accountability of the corrupt."
As for the president of the Parliamentary Bloc, he reassured Al-Abadi that "the masses will support the prime minister in his decisions regarding removing the corrupt from government; the determination of the people is invincible." He disregarded the fact that the three prime ministers who drove Iraq to the brink of dismantlement and the current administrative and political corruption are leaders of the Dawa Party and that the "wise" Guardianship's call on Al-Abadi to come down with an iron fist on the corrupt will require, as a first step, holding the Dawa Party leaders accountable for their actions, regardless of how much they claim and pretend they are making reforms.
With regards to the Guardianship's calls for Prime Minister Al-Abadi to "be more daring and courageous in the steps he is taking towards reform," and his immediate response in the form of declaring his full commitment to the valuable advice given to him by the Guardianship, which expressed the concerns and aspirations of the Iraqi people, this first of all shows that the Guardianship is aware that the government is on the brink of collapsing under the anger of the masses. Secondly, this shows that the demands are no longer limited to services, but have escalated to the defence of the right to life.
Thirdly, this suggests that Iraq is not actually being governed by the so-called government and parliament, but by the entity that goes by the name of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists, which lies in an isolated house in the city of Najaf. The people only hear its voice through a spokesperson, and the people have only seen fuzzy pictures of him, the dates of when they were taken are unknown. There is also video footage of him being transported to London when the American occupation forces desecrated the shrine of Imam Ali. So how much can this Guardianship really know about Iraq and the world's affairs, including the economy, technology, international and regional policy, and the military balances of power? How much does it really understand about the statistics and geography outside its specialisation in fiqh books? Despite this, the current government portrays the invisible Guardianship as the source of inspiration for the country's major policies and also portrays it as the icon for ideological, popular and pure emotions.
The Guardianship "sees everything" and therefore, obeying its fatwas have become the duty of the people, especially when these fatwas align with the politicians' requirements and demands and go hand in hand with preserving the sectarian government. Perhaps the most important question the protesting masses will ask themselves when the demonstrations are dispersed pending the achievement of the promised reforms is what is the use of the government and the House of Representatives' existence if Al-Sistani's Guardianship is capable of running the country by means of fatwas? Why are there elections? What about the civil state, the rights of the citizens and the rule of law? More importantly, what about the rest of the Iraqi people, which are spread across the religious and sectarian spectrum, who are face with a Guardianship that only represents one doctrine?
Translated from Arabi21 on 11 August 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.