A massive series of coordinated bombings blasted through several of Iraq’s cities on February 23. You have read about these attacks, and their significance in a country that is striving to rebuild its strength after the highly publicized official withdrawal of U.S. troops. But you have not heard about the events that came two days after, events that have greater significance to us if we are truly interested in Iraq’s transition. February 25 was the one year anniversary of Iraq’s “day of rage,” which saw an attempt to rekindle the Arab Spring in the country. There is an Iraqi social movement taking place which is directly related to the Arab Spring uprisings that surround it but which has its own identity, people, and circumstances. It is an uprising that deserves our attention and support, but which thus far has received very little media coverage.
Many think of Iraq as a war zone, a place that has lost its people, except for the tired and poor who remain. Iraqis have been victimized as a people who have dealt with heartbreak after heartbreak: the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s that lasted eight years, Saddam’s subsequent invasion of Kuwait in the early 90s, and nearly a decade of sanctions followed by the U.S. invasion and subsequent Iraq War. This purview is incredibly dangerous, as the only way forward is a reality in which the Iraqi people are agents in deciding their own fate. Amongst the many demands that characterize today’s social movement are standard access to water and electricity, economic security, an end to corruption, and the fall of the Maliki regime and regulations on U.S. entities in the country, specifically military contractors, whose influence in the country remains strong.
If the many troubles that Iraqi people face today are no reason for uprising, then our understanding of revolt is skewed. While other Arab Spring nations have been fighting corruption that stands against a background of some level of stability, Iraq faces not only an extreme level of political corruption, but also a post-war situation that compounds that corruption and makes it an obstruction to reconstruction, an obstacle to basic human rights and dignity. The nation’s infrastructure has not seen much improvement nearly nine years after the U.S. invasion.
It is clear that Iraqis who are fighting for change have much to fear, but that fear has pushed many forward. Nostalgia for the Iraq without this kind of fear, the Iraq where families spent summer nights sleeping on rooftops, where parents were confident in the education their children received at local schools, has provided that push forward. So the fight continues, as does the lack of awareness of it. And lack of media coverage makes the dangerous feat of dissent all the more menacing. We must see Iraq as it is, a country made up of people who despite a decade of despair, have not forgotten their balad bayn el nahreyn, land between two rivers, and refuse to give it up to crooks and their cronies.
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