The indomitable Iraqi spirit is on display yet again, as protests against the corrupt government in Baghdad continue for the 21st successive day. This outburst of civil disobedience comes after a year in which westerners have heard relatively little about Iraq.
Ever since the US claimed to withdraw its combat forces in 2011, most westerners have been oblivious to the daily struggles and hardships of Iraqis, who live under a government more beholden to foreign interests than to those of its people.
While the US has moved on, choosing to ignore the nightmare it created with war and occupation, Iraqis have gone to the streets, taking destiny in their own hands. But this should come as no surprise to those who know Iraq's history, where foreign domination has always been resisted.
Iraqis rose up to end the British mandate of their country in 1921, and after years of struggle, they overthrew the British-imposed monarchy in 1958. They carried on through yet more political turmoil when the prime minister, General Abdel-Karim Qasim, was assassinated in 1963, and succeeded by the military coup that ushered in Ba'athism.
The Iraqi people endured repression from Saddam Hussein, who rose to power with help from the CIA. War with Iran lasted for most of the 1980s; the first Gulf war claimed an estimated 158,000 lives (32,195 of which were children) in 1991, and the resulting sanctions claimed an additional 1m lives. The situation worsened still, after the turn of the century.
The 2003 US-led invasion and occupation officially ended in 2011, with another estimated 1m lives lost, a public health crisis, and the social fabric of the country torn apart in a civil war, which was instigated by the occupying powers. For a century, there has not been a single generation of Iraqis unfamiliar with struggle. Yet, this last decade has undoubtedly been the worst Iraq has ever experienced.
No one in Iraq has not suffered loss. The widows, orphans, and survivors carry on through grief and trauma. During these bleak days, it would be understandable if Iraqis chose to give up, accept the inadequate government that has been imposed on them, and focus on getting through the day. It would be understandable of any people who have suffered as they have.
Instead, Iraqis have chosen to fight for better days. This choice, to commit such energy, day after day, for 21 days, to put their bodies on the line in protest against injustices, after they have experienced so much loss, grief, and trauma is, well, inspiring. There have been sporadic protests throughout Iraq ever since the Arab spring began in 2010.
But Iraqi government forces, trained and armed by the US, have violently suppressed them, sometimes firing into unarmed crowds. Thus, large-scale protests, like those we saw in Egypt and Tunisia, never got off the ground in Iraq. These recent protests, however, are unique in their size and character. They focus on the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, accusing him of corruption, brutal repression, and sectarianism.
Maliki's regime has military support from the US, and thus the protesters consider it the "second face" of the occupation. Maliki also receives considerable political support from Iran, whose influence in the country, along with that of other countries, angers the protesters further. After years of occupation by foreign powers, what Iraqis want more than anything else is an independent and sovereign Iraq.
Outside analysts tend to perceive all the happenings in Iraq through the prism of sectarianism. Because the protests have been centered in the predominantly Sunni al-Anbar province, some commentators have dubbed them "Sunni" protests, which articulate only Sunni concerns.
But protests have taken place in cities all across the country, and several cities have even sent delegations to Ramadi, where the protests are centered. There have even been Kurdish delegations sent to protests in Mosul, and some Shia religious leaders have announced their support for the demonstrations.
1. The immediate release of detained protesters and political dissidents
2. A stop to the death penalty
3. The approval of an amnesty law for innocent detainees
4. The abolition of anti-terrorism laws (especially Clause 4 used to target them)
5. The repeal of unfair rulings against dissidents
6. Fair opportunities for work based on professionalism
7. The end of the use of military command based on geographic areas
8. The provision of essential services to all areas in Iraq neglected by the state
9. The holding of all members of government official, army or security units who have committed crimes against dissidents accountable, especially those who have violated the honor of women in prisons
10. A UN-sponsored population count
11. An end to marginalization, and a stop to agitating divisions between ethnic and religious groups, and a stop to house raids based on information from secret informers and without legal warrants
12. A stop to financial, administrative, and legal corruption
13. The combating of sectarianism in all its forms by returning religious buildings and all religious properties to their rightful owners
These protests are a hopeful sign that the wounds and divisions inflicted on Iraq by the occupation are healing, and that Iraqis will soon see better days. Throughout history, Iraq has been attacked and defended, conquered and liberated, occupied and abandoned.
Now, amid these protests, Iraqis are responding to the challenges they've received as a people blessed and cursed with a land so rich. Hopefully, this cycle will not continue until the end of days, but it is at least certain that Iraqis will not stop fighting for what is theirs.
By Ross Caputi for The Guardian