protests, political problems and farewell to the us
Another year in Iraq, another slew of tragic suicide bombings and jarring political crises. On the other hand, locals welcomed what economic progress they saw as well as the chance to become masters of their own
Baghdad, IRAQ: Iraqi Parliament members listen to proceedings during a parliament (representatives council) session, held under tight security in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, 22 April 2006. After four months of political deadlock, Iraq today got its new Shiite Prime Minister designate Jawad al-Maliki who was immediately tasked with forming the country's first permanent post-Saddam Hussein government within the next 30days. AFP PHOTO/POOL/ALI HAIDER (Photo credit should read ALI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images)
The two biggest events of the year in Iraq seem to have occurred at opposite ends of 2011. At the beginning of the year popular protests took place around the country. They began in Baghdad’s own Tahrir Square and spread to other Iraqi cities.
In Iraq’s version of the Arab spring style protests, Iraqis made it clear that they were angry about high unemployment, government corruption and human rights abuses; their demands also included better rationing and no more interruptions to electricity supply. Protests resulted in a number of deadly clashes between protestors and state forces. But the biggest anti-government campaigns resulted in the removal of the governors of Basra and Kut from their jobs.
Reacting to the demonstrations, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki then established his 100 Day deadline which would expire June 7. During those hundred days ministers and state governors were to outline a plan for improvement or lose their jobs. At the time, politicians argued about what the deadline was really for and what would be achieved. And it seemed the results were uncertain. However looking backwards, from this end of 2011, one would say that, in effect, the 100 Day plan achieved very little.
Iraq’s 2011 was also marked by the kind of political conflict that reflected the country’s own troubled internal realities. Several important ministries were without ministers – these included the ministries of defence and internal affairs – and as the year progressed, and internal schisms deepened, the positions became even harder to fill. Simply put, nobody could agree on anything.
And this was not just about disagreements between the various political blocs. In 2011 there were also plenty of disagreements inside Iraq’s political parties. In March, a handful of MPs from the main opposition bloc, Iraqiya led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayed Allawi, left that party. They formed a new group they called the White Iraqiya bloc; they currently have ten MPs.
In October, the possibility that the Badr Organization - once the armed military wing of the most important Shiite Muslim political party, the Supreme Islamic Council, - might split from its leadership was announced; however the decision to split was postponed.
The other major news in Iraq in 2011 was the end-of-the-year decision to withdraw US troops from the country after almost nine years. In 2003, the US had led the invasion of Iraq that toppled the regime of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and US forces had been in the country, and heavily involved in the country’s reconstruction and management, ever since.
But on Dec. 15 the flag of US troops in Iraq was finally lowered in a special ceremony.
Unfortunately only a few days later Iraq’s politicians were immediately embroiled in another serious crisis that remains, as yet, unresolved. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was behind an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on charges of terrorism. Al-Hashimi is a leading member of the Iraqiya bloc, the main opposition to al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and he denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.
Many commentators saw the charges, which left al-Hashimi sheltering in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan and his party boycotting Baghdad’s parliament, as the possible beginning of a new round of sectarian conflict. Al-Hashimi is a Sunni Muslim and the Iraqiya bloc is considered mainly Sunni-supported while the State of Law bloc is mainly Shiite Muslim supported.
The analysts’ predictions were supported by the fact that, shortly after the political crisis erupted, there were a number of co-ordinated terrorist attacks in Baghdad that left over 70 dead and hundreds injured. An extremist Sunni Muslim group, part of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization that includes al-Qaeda and other militant groups, then apparently claimed they were responsible for the attacks which they called the “Thursday Raid”.
And this was far from the only such attack in Iraq in 2011. Iraq has been more peaceful than in previous years but one would hardly call it safe. The Iraqi Body Count project, a humanitarian project that counts numbers of violent civilian deaths in order, they say, to document the human cost of war, suggests that just over 4,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq so far in 2011. This is slightly less than in 2010 but as the project notes on its website, their numbers often change due to retrospective reporting and research. Usually the numbers rise and under reporting is also a possibility.
In September 2011, a statistical analysis by the British medical journal Lancet found that “suicide bombers in Iraq kill significantly more Iraqi civilians than coalition soldiers. Among civilians, children are more likely to die than adults when injured by suicide bombs”. Suicide bombs are, the researchers concluded, “a major public health threat” with suicide bombs causing almost a fifth of all Iraqi civilian casualties between 2003 and 2010.
Despite the turmoil and violence that Iraq still faces, there have also been some improvements, particularly when it comes to economic progress and management. Important agreements were signed – including long term economic ties between Iraq and Jordan, an agreement on oil supplies with the South Korean government, deals with Turkish, Korean and Kuwaiti companies to develop Iraqi oil fields and a contract with a French company to build a train link between Baghdad and Basra.
And now Iraqis are preparing to farewell the year that was 2011. Ordinary Iraqis are looking back on the year with mixed feelings – they hope that 2012 might bring better times but they also know that, sadly, nobody can guarantee this.