Yesterday, CounterPunch ran an interesting story by Patrick Cockburn about the bloody anti-government protests in Iraq. Amnesty International says 264 demonstrators people taking part in demonstrations have died since October 1 while the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights puts that number at 301, with15,000 injured.
The protests – and the merciless government attempt to stamp them out – are the biggest threat to the power of the Iraqi political establishment since Isis was advancing on Baghdad in 2014. In many respects, the danger to the status quo is greater now because Isis was an existential threat to the Shia majority who had no choice but to support their ruling elite, however predatory and incompetent they had proved in office.
The slaughter of so many demonstrators is similar to the tactics used by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013 to crush protests opposing his military coup that had overthrown the elected government.
Today Kelley Beaucar Vlahos of The American Conservative has an equally grim story out.
Today the Baghdad streets look no different than when the U.S. invaded in 2003…Iraqis [are angry] over what they see as a predominantly Shiite government so corrupt it cannot provide jobs, clean water, health care and basic security to its people.
While the media’s eyes have been turned to ongoing street demonstrations in Hong Kong and Lebanon, Iraq’s have progressed virtually under the radar, despite the fact that they are increasingly more violent as the government is actually using force to quell them. The aforementioned human rights commission there has reported the use of live fire, tear gas, stun grenades and sound bombs. Human Rights Watch has accused the Iraqi military of targeting medics attempting to give aid to the wounded with live fire and tear gas. On Thursday security forces “used live rounds, rubber bullets and fired tear gas canisters in a bid to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.” One protester died immediately and another died from wounds from a stun bomb...
Tahrir Square was the scene of an even bloodier crackdown late last month. Thousands of people came out to protest the government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who has been in office for a year. But the anger of the people has been festering all over the country for some time. As we know, the Sunni provinces have been plagued by poverty, unemployment, and until recently, ISIS. American forces, after using young Sunni men (otherwise known as “sons of Iraq”) to push out Al Qaeda in 2008, left them high and dry in the hands of a authoritarian Shiite state. But it is the Shia in the capital and the south now who are leading the protests, charging that the elites in the government are hoarding the national resources while regular Iraqis cannot seem to climb out of the destitution imposed on them through war, corruption and sectarian conflict.
And to be self-serving, I’ll cite a 2016 story I wrote in The New Republic, which more or less pointed to where things were heading.
It is hard to overstate the devastating role that corruption has played in the failure of Iraq and the rise of ISIS. According to a report last March by the Iraqi parliament’s auditing committee, the country’s defense ministry has spent $150 billion on weapons during the past decade—but acquired only $20 billion worth of arms. Much of the equipment it did obtain was useless, 1970s-era matériel from former Soviet bloc states that was invoiced at up to four times its actual value….
Weapons aren’t the only target for corruption. When it comes to the vast sums of money that have flowed into Iraq for reconstruction and economic development, officials at every level of government have been more focused on lining their own pockets than rebuilding their ruined country. Foreign companies seeking business in Iraq frequently hire well-connected intermediaries, who then bribe senior officials in return for contracts. In one case that recently came to light, several U.S. energy giants, including Weatherford and FMC Technologies, retained a Monaco-headquartered energy-sector firm called Unaoil. As recently as 2012, Unaoil was doling out millions of dollars to senior Iraqi officials, who then awarded contracts to Unaoil clients—frequently with super-inflated profits guaranteed, because the government had agreed to purchase products and services at super-inflated prices. Money that was intended for reconstruction wound up being siphoned off by corrupt officials and private companies.