Iraqi security forces have killed hundreds of protesters who want to uproot the corrupt political system tied to Iran and established after the U.S. occupation.
JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
In news from Iraq, anti-government protests have swelled into the biggest mass demonstrations the country has seen since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. On Thursday, President Barham Salih agreed to new voting laws and to hold new elections. Here’s a clip.
BARHAM SALIH: As president of the republic, we’ll agree to holding new elections under a new electoral law and a new election commission. And the legitimacy of rule doesn’t come only through people.
JAISAL NOOR: This month, hundreds have been killed in protest against the government. Which they blame for widespread economic hardship in the country. Two people were killed on Wednesday when Iraqi security forces shot tear gas canisters directly into their heads in an attempt to stop protesters entering Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. Prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi will reportedly step down in the upcoming days, but demonstrators said removing him would not be enough. Here’s a clip.
PROTESTER: We want total change of government. We don’t want the firing of one or two officials and replacing them with another corrupt one. We want the government to be uprooted totally. They think that we will protest for one or two days and then go home. No, we are staying here until the government is totally uprooted.
JAISAL NOOR: Now joining us to discuss all of this and what this means for the region as well, is Professor Sabah Alnasseri at York University. Thanks so much for joining us.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Thanks, Jaisal. Good to be with you.
JAISAL NOOR: So let’s discuss this latest and breaking news. Iraq’s Prime Minister will reportedly step down in the upcoming days and the government has agreed to one of the key demands of the protest. Which is the whole structure of this government and how it’s set up and how it’s undemocratic at its core. Can you talk about this news and some of these core demands of the protesters? As we heard, it’s not about an individual, they want this whole system changed.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Right. Just a footnote: in a few months from now, Iraq will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the 1920 Revolution in Iraq against the British Empire. Just the last 16 years showed first that the Iraqi people resisted the US empire, just like they did with the British Empire in 1920. And just like in 1920, the British Empire brought to power a corrupt and a decadent political/economic class that led to the revolution in 1958. So to today, the U.S. empire, and especially the neocons, brought the most decadent, the most corrupt political parties to power in the classical modern history of Iraq. So no wonder that the Iraqi people actually resisted ever since 2003.
And even when these political parties, claiming to represent nominally a majority of the Iraqi people… Actually, not only the so-called Sunni and Kurds protested against this government, but especially people in the South and the Southern provinces of Iraq; so-called Shiite majority. They always protested against this government. And we had protests in 2018, 2015–I can go on and on–for the same reasons: lack of services, corruption, violence, suppression of free speech and movement, et cetera, et cetera. And nothing happened. Nothing changed until people realized only through what we can call now the October Revolution in 2019, only through a revolutionary act that can really help introduce radical change in Iraq by appealing to parties, and politicians, and the religious institution to introduce reform. It never worked. So, for many of us, it’s no surprise.
And I remember in 2007, I argued on The Real News that time when they were talking about sectarian war. I was saying there is no sectarian war. There’s a class war, and we can see today those who are in power since 2003 are exposed as what they are; namely, a terrorist. They use all state terror against their own population. I mean on, in the sense of claiming to represent the Shiite population. So they use all possible means of violence against the protesters. The statistic from the topic at the first end of the day were the official numbers of the killed young people and injured. The range about 252 to 400 killed and up to 9000-10,000 injured. This is maybe half of the truth because even hospitals and so on were instructed not to give the real number of the injured and the murdered. Once people go to the hospital, a security depot come there and arrest them. So what the numbers we know, I would assume maybe half or even less than half than the real number of the killed and the injured in Iraq.
JAISAL NOOR: Now we know the protests are ongoing and there’s been an agreement to hold new elections and the Prime Minister will step down. Do you think that the protesters are going to relent in their mass demonstrations? Dozens were killed this week alone, or do you think they’re going to keep going? And I was looking at the comments of the president and he basically argued, “We need to maintain this rule of law. We have to have some sort of semblance of process here.” What are your thoughts on that?
SABAH ALNASSERI: Well, the president is wrong. There is no rule of law in Iraq. There is the rule of might and especially military might and the militias. The second thing is, it seems to me that this political class is deaf on both ears. They’re not listening to what people want. People, they said again and again since October 1, not only do they regard this government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi as corrupt, but the whole political regime. They want a radical change of the whole political regime, not just the administered president. And again, when Barham Salih says there will be a new election and that Adil Abdul-Mahdi will resign, there are two problems here. First, Adil Abdul-Mahdi said he would resign, and the parliament finds an alternative Prime Minister and a government. So that means we don’t know if the parliament will find them and how long this will take.
And second, what Barham Salih says about the new election: you can’t have a new election under the current regime with the current corrupt institution and the corrupt political forces because it will be the same people; the same politicians, the same blocks and lists that governed Iraq since 2003. He starts wrong. He’s not listening to what people actually want. And I believe that things will get worse because people realize that they try to appease the protester just like they did that the last few years and not really listening that a radical shifts in the way their attitude, and the way they deal with the demands, and the way they take the people seriously. That’s why I think this will not work. And until today, since almost one month since the protests started October 1st, none of these political parties or politicians went to the street and sat with the people and talked to them face to face and listen carefully to what peoples want. So they still talk and then they’ll pass by the reality of the protesters in Iran.
JAISAL NOOR: Now I wanted to bring this into a regional context because we know Iran has been closely allied with the current leadership in not only Iraq but Lebanon. Hezbollah is a close ally there. And for Iran facing these sanctions being marginalized and, sort of a convenient enemy for the US and its allies, Israel, for example. It’s sort of made bedfellows with these authoritarian groups in these countries. So, we know that one of the Iranian military leaders actually came to the Green Zone and held a meeting. It was reported with the security forces there. Could this really hurt Iran’s standing in the region? And we know that for example, the Shia majority in Iraq is really important to Iran as another Shia majority country. It’s a religious camaraderie there. So talk about the significance here and you said Iraq’s October Revolution is not a sectarian war, it’s a class war. And that’s really clear in Lebanon and what’s been happening there as well.
SABAH ALNASSERI: The Supreme Leader of Iran, Khamenei, he was just saying yesterday that what happens Lebanon and Iraq are riots and instigated by Israel and the United States. This conspiracy discourse, you can hear it in Iraq by the Shiite political party. They argued the same thing. So they still don’t actually get it. I mean Iran, unfortunately, as a neighbor and close ally Iraq… They messed up actually in Iraq and Iran. Instead of pushing for reconciliation between different groups in Iraq and Lebanon; and pushing especially their Shiite political parties, their allies, to actually introduce reform, not to exclude and marginalize, and to fight corruption, et cetera. If Iran would have done that, no one in Iraq would say today, “Iran: get out.”
The problem is, I think, Iran faces a major crisis internally, and is not least due to the sanctions; not only an economic crisis, but possibly the crisis of legitimacy. So the only way for Iran was to project, externalize its crisis to Iraq and Lebanon and Syria. In this way, Iran thought that through Iraq and Lebanon and Syria, they have a strategic depth, space to maneuver, and then they can carry the conflict with the U.S. So in this way they intensified the problem of the conflict within these countries so much that people are fed up not only with their own government, but with the intervention of Iran and the region. Because I argued long ago that in order to deal with the major organic crisis in Iran, Iran created a new crisis in the region in different countries. And through this crisis the Iranian regime tried to hold onto power. Because as long as there is chaos and violence and conflict and war in the region, the Iranian regime can tell the Iranian people: “We have to stand together; we have to face these external threats,” et cetera.
The same thing, the Iraqi government–especially the Shiite political parties–since long, by instigating sectarian war, by actually enabling Daesh, ISIS to occupy the Western and Northwestern provinces in Iraq. And Al Maliki, who at that time would go through the Iraqi Army and deliver the fate of the people there to Daesh. By creating all these wars and conflicts, they can hold on to power. Now the Iraqi people, especially in the Southern provinces and the nominally Shiite population of Iraq who of course are not only Shiite–they could be liberal nationalist lefties, even fascists, but they reduce them to this ridiculous moment of Shiism… But especially these people realized that this Shiite political party using religion and using sect, using the religious institution, using Daesh or ISIS and all this as an excuse to sustain and reproduce corruption and accumulation of wealth and plundering of the peoples. So they are fed up with it and I think this is a huge transformation in their political consciousness.
JAISAL NOOR: Professor Sabah Alnasseri at York University, thanks so much for joining us.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me.
JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.