Opinion World

What really happened in Iraq over the last few weeks?

We’ve all seen the news and footage of protesters in Iraq storming the American embassy in Baghdad, but what do we know so far?

We know that some Iraqi militia attacked a military base in Kirkuk on December 27th.  Then in retaliation, the United States bombed five militia sites in Iraq and Syria on December 29th.  That was followed by the storming of the United States embassy compound by protestors and militias on December 31st.  Ending with the airstrikes on Baghdad International Airport which resulted in the death of Iraqi Special Forces Commander, Major General Qassem Soleimani on January 2nd.

The U.S. government are framing this as a sectarian pro-Irani and Shi’ite attack. This may be true in some cases but what does it mean?  All this is occurring in the midst of massive anti-government, anti-United States and anti-Iranian demonstrations that have shaken Iraq. This has lead to over 500 people killed and 25,000 wounded.  What really happened last week and what is the global media missing?

On New Year’s Eve President Trump delivered these remarks regarding the recent events in Iraq, “Well, I think it’s been handled very well.  The Marines came in. We had some great warriors come in and do a fantastic job and they were there instantaneously as soon as we heard.”

“As you know, this will not be a Benghazi.  Benghazi should never have happened.”

“I also want to thank the Iraqi government.  They really stepped up.”.

trumps remarks on new years eve 2019
President Trump remarks on recent events in Iraq

To understand what went on over the past two weeks, one needs to acknowledge the incredible uprising that started in Iraq on October 1st.  A mass popular uprising has been going on daily and has shaken the Iraqi establishment to its core. These attacks must be seen in that light.

The pro-Iranian militias have launched up to 11 attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq over the past two months.  Perhaps this is a tactic to export the internal crisis of the regime in Iraq, to a broader conflict between Iran and the United States.

One of the things that protesters have been angered by is the fact that Iraq has lost its sovereignty and become a theatre of war for Iranian-American conflict.  The attack on the U.S. embassy by supporters of Iranian militia groups is another example of this. It has increased the anger in the streets in Iraq because it is yet another example of how Iraq is now simply the battleground for American-Iranian warfare.

The Iraqi protests which began on October 1st and intensified on October 25th are part of a new global trend of popular uprisings that emphasize opposition to corruption and the incredible gap between the rich and the poor.

Iraqi protestors snatch U.S. embassy plaque
Iraqi protestors snatch U.S. embassy plaque

The Iraqi protesters have made four key demands in their protests:

  • The resignation of the government and more transparent oversight
  • Democratic reforms by way of a revision of the electoral process
  • Greater focus on sovereignty and patriotism and a move away from sectarianism
  • A move toward building a civil state by the separation of religion from politics.  Equality for all citizens of Iraq, regardless of their religion or political affiliation.

Iraq’s uprising that began on October 1st has been all-encompassing, incredibly powerful and has already achieved many of its demands.  It has succeeded in forcing the prime minister to resign, it has succeeded in getting the electoral commission to resign and reestablish a new commission and they are in the process of negotiating for an interim government.

As this is going on the Iranians may feel especially threatened because so much of the anger at the demonstrations have been directed toward Iran.

Iran’s presence is felt in Iraq via various militia groups.  There are three groups that were implicated in the storming of the U.S. embassy.  One of these militia groups Ka’taib Hezbollah is effectively an extension of the Iranian regime.  Their recent actions could imply the Iranian government is itching for a confrontation on Iraqi territory as a way to create a broader crisis which could then lead to the end of the protests.

It is important to note that the protests do not appear to be sectarian-based.  The protestors have only used the Iraqi flag, no sectarian symbols. Their primary slogan has been “We want a country”.  This has really shaken the Iranian regime and its militia groups in Iraq.

American troops in Iraq

The protestors are equally as upset with the United States as they are with Iran, they are two sides of the same coin.  However, it is Iranian backed militias on the ground killing people right now. It is Iranian companies that have bankrupted Iraqi factories.

Therein lies the opportunity for the West and the United States to play a positive role.  It will be difficult. The last thing Iraqis want is American troops pouring in or any more bombings, but at least in terms of moral support, in terms of putting pressure on Iran internationally to withdraw its influence in Iraq, if the United States can play this role it may regain a little bit of its credibility in the region.

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