Has the Arab Spring arrived in Iraq? This is the question being asked by a number of observers and strategists in light of the crisis that is unfolding in the country. Public anger is being expressed in the form of demonstrations in several cities, as protesters continue to oppose the policies of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki that seem to threaten the nation’s stability. The situation seems similar to the other revolutions in the region, emphasised by demonstrators chanting the slogan: “The people want to overthrow the regime”.
The real crisis reveals the attempts by Al Maliki to monopolise power and exclude the input of other groups, thereby triggering Sunni aggression and the subsequent issue of a looming sectarian war. Al Maliki pays little attention to the contributions from the Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians, Sabians among other minority groups.
Protesters chanted slogans calling for justice, the abolition of the law of accountability, the terrorism act and death penalty. They also demanded the release of prisoners and a call to end the marginalisation suffered by the Sunnis.
It is interesting that the Shiite leader, Moqtada Al Sadr, appeared to be more conscious of the seriousness of the current sectarian conflict between the Shiites and Sunnis — more than Maliki — and attempted to create some semblance of peace by leading Friday prayers at the mosque alongside Shaikh Abdul Qadir Al Gailani, in one of the largest Sunni mosques in Baghdad — symbolising his solidarity with the demands of the demonstrators.
The Iraqi List leader, former prime minister Eyad Allawi, had earlier called a meeting with the other parties in the northern region of Iraq to seek a solution in line with the aspirations of the people. Allawi said: “Iraq does not belong to one person.” He stressed upon the need to get rid of the Al Maliki government and make way for radical solutions as he felt Al Maliki lacked the ability to instigate any social or economic reforms and provide security to the people of Iraq.
The protesters continue to demand the fall of the regime and the crisis has heightened the possibility of a severe sectarian confrontation. In a related context, the vice-president in the regime of Saddam Husssin, Izzat Al Douri, who made a rare media appearance in military fatigue, accused Al Maliki of being involved in military projects in Iran which sought to destroy Iraq’s interests and make it subservient to Tehran.
It seems the current political crisis will not be resolved any time soon. One solution agreed upon by politicians is the hosting of early elections, although parties differed on how to remove the current government from power. This supposedly is the closest to a solution that has been agreed upon to overcome the crisis. But the question is why do things have to wait until after the elections?
The recent demonstrations in Anbar are in support of Al Maliki and his State of Law list — particularly the demonstrations in the centre and south, dominated by images of Saddam, Kurdish flags and pictures of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These rallies depicted Al Maliki as a hero — defending Shiites against other parties and advocating the need for the conditions to return to what they were before 2003. Perhaps it is this show of solidarity that has prompted Al Maliki to hold early elections, since he is confident about street support for him and consequently sure of the renewal of his mandate for a third term.
The demonstrations were initially triggered by the assassination of Iraq’s Sunni Finance Minister, Rafia Al Issawi. What is ironic is that the demands being sought will in no way benefit the people in terms of addressing the current problems of unemployment, power shortages and education.
Over and above all this, there seems to be no single national project that unites the people of Iraq. In the political spectrum, we need ideas, theories and ideological projects that believe in democratic thought, pluralism, freedom and equality.
Solution to the political problems in Iraq cannot be obtained through violence on the streets but through negotiations. The demonstrators should first of all reflect upon their political representatives and open their eyes to what really is going on. The inflammation on the streets of Iraq is only deepening the political crisis that may eventually lead to a total division of the country. The demonstrators scattered in different cities of Iraq chant slogans and seek demands that often contradict each other, presenting conflicting views about the country and how it should be ruled. If only the differing visions agree on some form of a common minimum programme, will peace prevail.
If the Iraqi government does not change its ways to deal with the changed circumstances, the crisis will only deepen and reach a point from where there will be no going back.
The Iraqi government has recently come under fire on a number of issues, such as standing against the collective opinion of the Arab League states, about decisions on Syria — which led to the accusation of subservience to the ruling regime in Iran. The crisis has been deepened by the prevailing tension between Al Maliki and Tariq Al Hashemi, the Iraqi Vice-President, as well as the run-in with the Kurds that has heightened fears of a civil war.
Al Maliki’s duty is to serve his people before serving the region and only if he understands this will he be able to adhere to his national duty to protect his people and secure the future of Iraq.
Dr Shakir Noori is a writer and journalist based in Paris.