What distinguished the Iraqi uprising in 2018 from previous years was the clarity of the reasons for it happening at all. The pillars of the uprising’s national concept were completed with the majority of Iraqis, from all sects and factions, rejecting the nature of the political system in Iraq since 2003. This system was imposed by the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority — the US occupation authority in Iraq — Paul Bremer, and was used by Iran to impose its influence and national interests on its neighbour under the cover of the Islamic project. This was a step back into Iran’s imperial history, which has aimed to occupy Mesopotamia and destroy the national project in Iraq ever since the founding of the modern state in 1921.
Although the main reasons for Iraqis taking to the streets can be interpreted in various contexts, such as poverty and the lack of basic services like clean water and electricity, the goals are voiced clearly by the uprising against the political system put in place in Baghdad by the US. This has seen Iraqis refusing to vote in the legislative elections; protestors setting fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra; and the destruction of the headquarters of parties affiliated with Iran. All of this is evidence of the clear vision and maturity of the Iraqi national concept, as well as its independence. This gives the uprising a national dimension if we take into consideration the large area covered by this uprising, which affects all of Iraq’s cities, towns and villages. It also pinpoints one of its most important goals, to overthrow the corrupt sectarian political system imposed by successive US administrations on the people of Iraq.
As a result of the flaws of this system, including its corruption, it is viewed by Iraqis as the root of the problem, with its sectarian quotas and percentages. Public funds are embezzled by sectarian big fish operating within the system instead of being distributed fairly to meet the needs of the people and the country. Such corruption, bribery, embezzlement and nepotism, based on the sectarianism of the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds has been used to facilitate the control imposed by the occupation authority in Iraq.
The protests began in 2010 in Baghdad, Mosul and Sunni cities in the west and Shia areas in the south, in response to the lack of electricity and Iraq’s dire need of political reform and equality among all citizens, regardless of sect. The corrupt so-called Green Zone in Baghdad, where the Coalition Provisional Authority was based, was also an issue. This is a fortified area established by the US occupation authority that has since become the headquarters of the Iraqi government and central location of the failed state. The zone is also a symbol of the resistance of the popular forces which occupied it in the uprising in 2016.
The fall in the number of votes cast in the parliamentary elections last year, to less than 25 per cent of those eligible to take part, is evidence of the rejection of millions of Iraqis for the political process and the false nature of the polls. The people have realised that their votes will not lead to the changes that they hope for because of the sectarian political system, led by party leaders and clerics who control government resources and jobs through their exclusive group networks at the expense of hardworking citizens. This is why the uprising expanded its goals to include all ruling parties, making it a popular revolution against the imported quota regime.
The spread of the demonstrations in Basra, with arson attacks on government buildings and the offices of all the major parties, and then attacks on the oilfields, was the popular way to demonstrate the links between political parties and the theft of Iraq’s oil revenues. In Basra alone these revenues total more than $175 million a day; meanwhile, cities around Iraq are collapsing under an endless cycle of poverty.
The invasion of the southern oil fields in the summer of 2018 by the Iraqi people was a culmination of many years of mass protests against the corruption of the regime, and its responsibility for the spread of unemployment and the increase in poverty. The responsibility has to be borne by the parties and militias that have flourished under the political system since the 2003 invasion. This proves the independence of the uprising from any influence by the political forces opposed to the new regime, given the size of the participation of young people from the generation that has grown up during the occupation. They are the direct victims of the system responsible for rising unemployment and poverty, as well as the dangerous and deeply-rooted sectarianism which has forced the youth to choose between poverty and joining a sectarian militia for money. In turn, that has contributed to the deepening of sectarian divisions in society by increasing the number of young people in the militias.
There is no doubt that the system established by the George W Bush administration through Paul Bremer and promoted by his successors in the White House is intended to dismantle the Iraqi state and ensure the imposition of a new will on the country, which does away with the nation state and replaces it with a federal concoction that has already looted the country’s wealth and public resources and follows Iran’s agenda. Bremer stands accused of causing chaos and instability in Iraq, as well as purges of Ba’athist officers from the armed forces and allowing Nouri Al-Maliki to have the upper political hand. This is clear evidence of the US occupation authority’s way of dealing with Iraqi society through the lens of a primitive understanding of ethnic and religious identities.
Hence, the magnitude of the relationship between the Iraq uprising and the failure of the political process based on the “ethnic” concept planned by the US is clear. This process has excluded the majority of Iraqis in favour of the minority represented by Bremer’s sectarian favourites serving the interests of Washington and Tehran. This much was made clear in 2018. The US has a lot to answer for with regard to the current chaos in Iraq, for which Washington must take the blame. The people of Iraq have made major efforts to change the imposed political system. History, I think, will view them favourably.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 9 January 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.