عام من الخوف وخيبة الأمل في العراق

This is the Arabic version of my article, “A year of fear and frustration in Iraq”, published in Australian Outlook, the online journal of the Australian Institute for International Affairs, on 20 December 2016. It was published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.

قد تكون العملية العسكرية لتحرير الموصل هي الحدث الأهم لعام 2016، إلا أن العام كان مفعماً بالأحداث الأخرى – من سياسة الشارع المثيرة إلى التفجيرات الإرهابية الفظيعة – والتي ساهمت في تشكيل البلد، وكشفت عن قضايا ولاعبين سيكون لهم دور مهم في مستقبله.

إن التغطية الإعلامية للعمليات العسكرية التي تقودها الحكومة العراقية لاستعادة مدينة الموصل شمال العراق قد تعني بأن عام 2016 سيكون عنوانه العام الذي تراجعت فيه طموحات تنظيم “الدولة الإسلامية” بالتوسع. هذا الحدث مهم جداً للعراق ونتائج عمليات الموصل العسكرية سيكون لها تأثير كبير في المستقبل، كما ذكرت في مقالتي السابقة حول المناورات السياسية.

فالوضع في العراق معقد، إلا أنه من المهم أيضاً التطرق إلى عدد من الأحداث الجوهرية التي جرت في عام 2016 والتي تساعد في التوصل إلى فهم أعمق للحكومة والبلد وآفاقه المستقبلية.

سياسة الشارع

لقد كانت سياسة الشارع معلماً من معالم المجتمع المدني العراقي منذ عام 2003. وازداد سعيرها في منتصف عام 2015، حيث كانت الخدمات الحكومية السيئة قد زادت من معاناة العراقيين خلال لهيب الصيف الخانق دون موارد كافية من كهرباء وماء. وحينها بدأ العراقيون مظاهرات كبيرة ألقوا فيها باللوم على نظام المحاصصة السياسية العرقية والطائفية، إضافة إلى الفساد المزمن الذي رسخه ذلك النظام. وفي شهري آذار ونيسان من عام 2016 تصاعدت وتيرة المظاهرات بشكل كبير، ما وضع الحكومة العراقية تحت ضغوطات كبيرة.

وازدادت أعداد المتظاهرين من المئات أو الآلاف إلى مئات الآلاف عندما تدخلت الحركة الاجتماعية التي يقودها مقتدى الصدر، رجل دين ذو تأثير كبير ومثير للجدل، وقدمت كفاءاتها التنظيمية للحركة التظاهرية الداعية للإصلاح. وفي حملة متصاعدة على مدى شهور عدة، صاغ الداعون للإصلاح مجموعة من المطالب، كما تحولت المظاهرات الأسبوعية إلى اعتصامات خارج مداخل المنطقة الخضراء.

وترمز المنطقة الحكومية والدبلوماسية الآمنة في بغداد والمسماة بـ “المنطقة الخضراء” للاحتلال الأمريكي وهي الآن مرتبطة بانحلال النخبة السياسية في البلاد. وبعد تحرك رمزي من مقتدى الصدر الذي دخل المنطقة الخضراء واعتصم فيها وحيداً، تجاوز آلاف المتظاهرين الجدران الاسمنتية الضخمة واحتلوا بشكل سلمي برلمان بلادهم.

ويعتبر الكثير من العراقيين، وخاصة أبناء المجتمع المدني الذين يجتمعون في تظاهرات أسبوعية كل يوم جمعة، بأن الدفع نحو إصلاح سياسي لا يقل أهمية عن قتال تنظيم “الدولة الإسلامية”. وتركز انتقاداتهم العميقة للنظام السياسي العراقي على نظام المحاصصة  الذي يرسخ شبكات المحسوبية والسلوك الفاسد ما يقلل من قدرة الحكومة على تقديم الخدمات العامة ومنها الكهرباء، والماء، والأمن، ويساهم في خلق مناخ ملائم لانتشار الإرهاب. ويؤكد الناشطون بأن مكافحة الفساد يجب أن توازي عملية مكافحة الإرهاب.

فبالرغم من أن دولتهم تواجه تحديات أمنية وإنسانية ملحة وخطيرة، إلا أن العراقيين لا يزالون منخرطين بنشاط بالعمل السياسي. فناشطو المجتمع المدني يحاولون رسم صورة لحكومة عراقية جديدة مبنية على أسس المواطنة وحقوق الإنسان وقادرة على تقديم خدمات حكومية جيدة من خلال حكومة كفاءات (تكنوقراط).

اعتداء الكرادة

في تموز 2016، وحينما كان تقرير تشيلكوت حول دور بريطانيا في غزو العراق عام 2003 يأخذ انتباهاً دولياً، قام تنظيم “الدولة الإسلامية” بتفجير شاحنة مفخخة في منطقة الكرادة في بغداد في إحدى ليالي رمضان والناس في الأسواق. كان التفجير مدمراً ودموياً وأودى بحياة  أكثر من 340 شخصاً.

وفي الأيام والأسابيع التالية للتفجير، تحولت المنطقة إلى مكان مقدس يؤمه سكان بغداد لتقديم العزاء لضحايا التفجير وعائلاتهم، وشارك الناس في وقفات شموع تنديدية. وحينها، تمت المطالبة بمحاسبة الدولة وإقالة المسؤولين عن الملف الأمني في بغداد، كما تعرض المسؤولون الزائرون للمنطقة لغضب الجموع العارمة.

فقد خلّفت تفجيرات الكرادة ندباً عميقاً ومؤلماً في وجه مدينة بغداد المدماة أصلاً، وذكّرت العالم بأن العراقيين لا يزالون يعيشون تحت وطأة الإرهاب بشكل يومي، حيث من الصعب أن يمر يوم واحد دون حدوث اعتداء إرهابي يستهدف حاجزاً عسكرياً أو مكان عبادة أو سوقاً تجارياً.

المسير إلى كربلاء

يعتبر الحج السنوي إلى مدينة كربلاء، جنوب العراق، لإحياء ذكرى أربعينية الإمام الحسين، من أكبر التجمعات السلمية في العالم، حيث استقطب في الماضي جموعاً زاد تعدادها على 20 مليون شخص. والأربعين هي ذكرى وفاة الإمام الحسين، حفيد الرسول محمد، والذي كان مقتله في معركة كربلاء رمزاً للتضحية الشخصية في مكافحة الظلم. وجاءت ذكرى الأربعين هذه السنة في شهر تشرين الثاني، حيث كان من المتوقع مشاركة حوالى 22 مليون شخص، بمن فيهم زوار إيرانيون.

وتحمل الأربعين معانٍ دينية وسياسية، فالعديد من العراقيين يعتبرون المشي إلى كربلاء رمزاً للمقاومة السلمية وتحد للظلم الكبير. وكان نظام البعث قد منع ذلك، إلا أن البعض تحدوا القرار حينها وقاموا بالزيارة كتعبير عن مقاومتهم السلمية للنظام.

وفي السنوات الأولى من الاحتلال الذي قادته الولايات المتحدة ومن التمرد المسلح، بدأ العراقيون المسير بأعداد أكبر إلى كربلاء في تعبير عن فخرهم الوطني ورغبتهم في متابعة العيش على طريقتهم الخاصة على الرغم من الفوضى والعنف السائدين. واليوم، يعتبر المسير تحدياً رمزياً في وجه الإرهاب، ويراه بعض الناشطون استمراراً لحملة الإصلاح التي يرونها متابعة لسعي الإمام الحسين نحو تحقيق العدالة.

وكما فعل على مدى السنوات السبعة الماضية، قام تنظيم “الدولة الإسلامية” باستهداف حجاج الأربعين بتفجيرات إرهابية ذهب ضحيتها العشرات من الحجاج، العديد منهم إيرانيون. ولحسن الحظ، استطاع الملايين من الحجاج متابعة مسيرهم في أمن وسلام. وعجت صفحات مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي في العراق برسائل الامتنان لقوات الأمن العراقية والتي تضمنت في معظمها صوراً مع الجنود المتواجدين لحماية حجاج كربلاء.

المسيرة طويلة

بعيداً عن مشاهد معركة الموصل على شاشات التلفاز، يعمل الكثيرون من العراقيين المتحفزين سياسياً على تنظيم أنفسهم والمشاركة دون كلل في احتجاجات سلمية تدعو إلى نقد دقيق للنظام السياسي في العراق ووضع تصور للمستقبل.

فعلى الرغم من استمرار الإرهاب كجزء من الحياة اليومية – والذي وقعه سيسهام في صياغة رؤية عالمية حول جيل عراقي قد تسوء أوضاعه أكثر مع فقدان تنظيم “الدولة الإسلامية” حلمه في التوسع ما قد يحولهم إلى التمرد المسلح والمزيد من الإرهاب، إلا أن أحداثاً مثل زيارة الأربعين تشكل فرصة للعراقيين للتعبير بشكل رمزي عن مقاومة سلمية للظلم وتسمح للعالم الخارجي، إن كان يحسن الإصغاء، لسماع صوتهم.

تحديات العراق كبيرة وستستغرق سنوات عديدة لحلها. ولكن بالنظر بعيداً عن تقارير الإعلام حول الإرهاب والحرب، يبدو واضحاً أن شعب العراق يُعِدّ تصوراً ويحضر لمستقبل عنوانه الحكم الرشيد والأمن. قد يكون هذا المستقبل بعيداً، إلا أن ملامحه تتضح بشكل بطيء من خلال أناس صامدين لا يزالون يظهرون التحدي في وجه الظلم.

ديميان دويل، باحث دكتوراة في مركز الدراسات العربية والإسلامية في جامعة أستراليا الوطنية. يركز بحثه على الحركات الاجتماعية والسياسات المثيرة للجدل في العراق. يمكنكم متابعته على تويتر: @toaf

تم نشر هذه المقالة تحت رخصة المشاع الإبداعي، ويمكن إعادة نشرها مع الإسناد.

تم نشرها في 20 كانون الأول 2016.

Advertisements

Speicher Man

Speicher Man

Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is a divisive figure in Iraqi politics and this weekend became a target for protests. Al-Maliki is criticised for fomenting sectarian tension, alienating Sunni communities, and eroding the state’s capacity to provide security. Some, including Sadrists, argue that this created the conditions for the Islamic State group to commit atrocities like the Camp Speicher massacre in 2014, in which more than 1,500 Iraqi air force cadets were murdered.

At the weekly pro-reform demonstration in Baghdad on Friday some protesters held banners critical of al-Maliki and his political legacy. That evening in Nasiriyah, a city south of Baghdad, a lively crowd gathered outside the hotel where al-Maliki was staying to deliver the message that he was not welcome. Al-Maliki left for the southern port city of Basra – crowds sprung up to harass him there, too, and forced him to abandon a press conference. Protesters included both civic and Sadrist activists as well as family members of Camp Speicher victims.

This is not the first time that the families of terrorism victims have joined protests or that activists have demanded that politicians be held accountable for terrorism. During the second attempt to infiltrate Baghdad’s Green Zone in May 2016, relatives of those killed in a recent bombing in Sadr City planned to perform a symbolic funeral ceremony to demand accountability for ineffective security. That protest was violently repressed. During mass demonstrations in June 2016, protesters again called for accountability, declaring that the blood of terrorism victims was “in the necks” of the corrupt political elite.

whatsapp-image-20160611
At a Baghdad protest on 11 June 2016, a protestor holds the corrupt elite responsible for recent terrorist bombings in Sadr City. Photo via an activist.

Nor is it the first time that al-Maliki has been targeted by angry protesters or accused of creating the conditions for emergence and growth of the Islamic State group. Last month, al-Maliki visited Kerbala to take part in the Arbaeen pilgrimage and was hounded by Iraqis who shouted abuse and forced him to leave. Sadrist Line activists refer to al-Maliki as Speicher Man and hold him directly responsible for the 2014 massacre. They also remember that it was al-Maliki who led a military offensive against the Sadrist Line’s armed group, the Mahdi Army, in 2008. Some Sadrist activists have told me that they wish to see al-Maliki face trial for his crimes – just as Saddam Hussein did.

maliki-banner-at-friday-protests-9-dec-2016
Anti-Maliki sentiment at Friday pro-reform protests in Baghdad, 9 December 2016. Photo via the organising committee.

It is not clear to me whether the anti-Maliki protests are directed by or endorsed by Muqtada al-Sadr, or whether they are a spontaneous expression of popular anger. I suspect they are a little of both. Either way, they provide a firm indication that, contrary to recent speculation, a brokered political reconciliation between al-Sadr and al-Maliki is not likely any time soon. Above all, the anger toward al-Maliki can be seen as part of the broader civil society critique of Iraq’s political system and elite which sees corruption and sectarian quotas as the cause of ineffective governance and vulnerability to terrorism.

Feature image: Banners stating that Nouri al-Maliki is not welcome in Nasiriyah via twitter user @NazliTarzi on 9 December 2016.

Interpreting itikaaf

On numerous occasions since 2003 the figurehead of the Sadrist Line, Muqtada al-Sadr, has removed himself from the public eye for periods of itikaaf, or “seclusion”. The practice provides insights into the role of his leadership in the wider movement. When he enters seclusion, al-Sadr undertakes a private spiritual retreat to an undisclosed location for weeks or months. Seclusion features prominently in activist discourse and its meaning is constructed in several ways.

Frequently, the publicly stated purpose of seclusion is to distance the cleric from worldly politics as a means of expressing his profound disappointment or frustration – perhaps even disgust – with the state of affairs in Iraq. Several activists have informed me that they interpret seclusion in this way, or as a contemplative practice that allows al-Sadr to plan his approach to difficult issues. By contrast, some commentary has characterised seclusion as evidence of poor temperament and unpredictability, cowardice, subservience to external actors (usually Tehran), a need to invest time in a sub-par religious education, and even immaturity, all of which are consistent with the generally negative international framing of al-Sadr.

An alternative perspective is provided by an activist who told me that Sadrists consider the seclusion practice to be a necessary part of self-reflective, considered leadership that balances religious and political life. On each occasion that al-Sadr enters seclusion, activists look forward to a significant message or action upon his return to public life, presumably the product of quiet contemplation and careful consideration of weighty matters. In this view, it’s leadership with mystery and drama. Seclusion may also serve more practical purposes. As the critical observers suggest, it may be a means of hiding from enemies (including foreign occupation forces).

My activist contact also suggested to me that seclusion is instrumental in the sense that it provides space for activists, participants, and leaders within the wider social movement to make decisions for themselves. During seclusion there are no public statements, no responses to questions from the faithful – and no directions to the organisers of protest actions.

Muqtada al-Sadr announced a period of seclusion in the days following the 30 April 2016 infiltration of the Green Zone, an event in which he had played a significant symbolic role. The activist explained to me that this was a deliberate move designed to create space, both for the government (to act on the demands of the pro-reform protesters) and for the activists (to make their own decisions and organise their next actions). The purpose of seclusion, I was informed, is “preparing the people to lead themselves”. Furthermore, al-Sadr frequently urges participants in the wider social movement to self-organise by asking, “What will you do when I will be killed by the enemies?” Not if, but when.

In this interpretation of the practice of seclusion, al-Sadr provides moral guidance to protest actions – including, in the case of the Green Zone infiltration, through symbolic personal participation – and then steps back to create space for others to discuss, organise, decide, and act. To engage, that is, in praxis. For at least some Sadrist activists, the practice of seclusion represents self-reflective, considered, and even empowering leadership.

Bad apples

Bad apples

One of the main criticisms made of the Sadrist Line by other political groups in Iraq is that its campaign against government corruption is hypocritical and insincere. Critics point out that the Sadrists oppose a government that their political wing, the al-Ahrar Bloc, is a part of, and they question the commitment of the Sadrists to stamping out corruption on the grounds that the movement itself contains corrupt members. As with other criticisms levelled against it, the Sadrist Line is taking measures in response.

In July 2016 the Sadrists announced the establishment of a commission against corruption to root out the undesirable elements within their own movement. It is headed by Dhiaa al-Asadi who also leads the al-Ahrar Bloc and is respected within the Sadrist Line as a principled man able to make tough decisions. Tip boxes were placed at the location of Friday prayers so that people could provide information about unethical behaviour of their fellow Sadrists in confidence.

img_4684

The work of the commission is underway. From time to time it makes a decision and publishes a statement that names the guilty party and the activities they have perpetrated. Recent announcements have, for example, expelled an individual from the Sadrist Line because their corrupt activities have brought the wider movement into disrepute. These statements are shared widely on social media; it is a very public ostracism.

The Sadrists have long acknowledged the presence of criminals within their movement. Muqtada al-Sadr frequently stated that he was not responsible for the activities of criminals who committed violence in the name of the movement’s armed wing, the Mahdi Army, during the height of the insurgency against US occupation. Steps were taken to address this problem, although not before a lot of harm was done. Activists that I speak with today with are likewise aware that there are bad apples within the movement – naturally, they say, given its size and diversity – and believe that action must be taken to be rid of them.

Opponents and critics of the Sadrist Line will remain skeptical – and will be justified in raising questions about the rigour with which a political movement can investigate itself – but people within the movement seem to view the commission positively. Its establishment and ongoing work also demonstrates that the Sadrist leadership is intent on proving its reformist credentials and showing its critics that it is willing to look inwards and examine its own failings. Above all, it suggests that the Sadrist Line cares how other Iraqis perceive it and wishes to be seen as a legitimate and trustworthy actor on the nation’s political stage.

Infinite and stable

At first I referred to the Sadrist Movement. Later I settled on Sadrist Trend (after reading it somewhere that sounded authoritative) and I noted that some called it the Sadrist Current. Both of these are reasonably common ways of referring to a school of political thought. But if you ask a member of the social movement known as the Sadrists how they would prefer to be known, they will probably say al-Khatt al-Sadri, the Sadrist Line.

When this was explained to me I immediately thought of “family line”. The movement’s figurehead, Moqtada al-Sadr, is descended from a long line of respected religious scholars. His family includes the “vanished imam” Musa al-Sadr, the important Iraqi scholar and political activist, Baqir al-Sadr, and Muqtada’s father Sadeq al-Sadr, for whom Baghdad’s “Sadr City” is named. It would make sense to speak of the Sadr family as the Sadrist Line, but I couldn’t see how it would apply more generally to a movement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who identify with the movement.

I was missing the point.

The word “line” is not just about family history. It is used as a counterpoint to words like “trend” and especially “current”. These terms suggest impermanence and instability. A line, however, is infinite and stable. Like a line, the movement is stable and will continue on forever, even after its present day participants have passed on.

A million signatures

A million signatures

The third element of this month’s nonviolent protest by the Sadrist Trend – following its two-day public sector strike and Friday hunger strike – is a petition demanding anti-corruption reforms. The aim is to collect a million signatures of Iraqis who declare, “The corrupt in the government do not represent me”. The petition is a tactic that the movement has used in the past and provides insights into the Sadrist Trend’s political strategy.

First, it demonstrates the commitment to nonviolence I discussed in my previous note. Moreso, it shows that the movement’s leaders and organisers have a firm grasp of democratic processes – contrary to some disparaging views of Iraqi politics and the Arab world more broadly – and its members and supporters value these processes enough to line up in the summer heat and sign their names. This was likewise demonstrated more than a decade ago when, in 2005, the movement set out to obtain a million signatures to express opposition to the US occupation of Iraq.

Second, it suggests that the movement seeks international recognition and legitimacy. Sadrists have made remarks suggesting that international observers are overseeing the collection of signatures and that a submission will be made to the United Nations. I haven’t been able to dig into this yet, however it’s consistent with the movement’s recent approach to international engagement. In May, for instance, following the violent repression of a Green Zone protest, Sadrists and other protestors provided witness statements to international human rights bodies and called for international action. Alongside civil activists, they also met with representatives of UN bodies to explain the broader demands of the reform movement and seek support.

The stated aim of the strike action was to demonstrate through symbolic sacrifice the Sadrists’ honesty and commitment to the pro-reform struggle, as a means of appealing to other Iraqis. If indeed the petition is aimed at the UN, this shows that this month’s protests form a well-rounded strategy that is designed to deliver political messages to both domestic and international audiences. Finally, the petition demonstrates once again the ability of the Sadrist Trend to engage large numbers of people and coordinate activities nationally. This in itself is a powerful message.

(Photo courtesy of @AlFayth.)

Hungry for reform

Hungry for reform

Public sector employees across Iraq this week staged a two day strike under the slogan, “The corrupt do not represent me”. On Sunday and Monday, the striking workers staged sit-ins and pickets outside their workplaces, ensuring they were available should urgent matters arise, despite official warnings they could be penalised. The call to strike came from Muqtada al-Sadr. Some strikers displayed posters of al-Sadr or his father, Sadeq al-Sadr. This weekend a hunger strike is taking place in designated mosques, Hussainiyas, and churches, in order to symbolically demonstrate the commitment and honesty of the pro-reform protestors.

Since early this year – as regular Friday protests morphed into mass rallies, sit-ins, and then the momentous Green Zone infiltration – activists within the Sadrist Trend have talked about the need to escalate their protest activities – shala’ qala’ – until the government is compelled to take action on reform. The infiltration of the Green Zone was a remarkable means of escalation. However, after a second attempt was met with repression reminiscent of past government responses, activists changed tack. Sit-ins occurred outside political offices and other sites, notably in Najaf, but this approach was abandoned as counterproductive when it seemed likely to provoke violence.

Activists said that the escalation would culminate if necessary in a general strike. Indeed, Iraq has a history of strike action, particularly in the oil and transport sectors. The current action is far short of a general strike, yet it serves to demonstrate a commitment to nonviolent escalation. This commitment was clearly articulated in the “peaceful, peaceful” chants of the Green Zone action in April 2016. It also represents a clear statement that the Sadrist Trend’s repertoire of contention – that is, the set of protest tactics and actions that it is capable of and prepared to use – is resolutely nonviolent. This is important for the Sadrists’ legitimacy, its relationship with other civil society groups, and al-Sadr’s continuing effort to transform the image of his movement.

The strike actions have coincided with the hijra al-Sadreen ala tweeter or migration of Sadrists to Twitter (presumably from the preferred platform, Facebook). The government workers’ strike was supported by the hashtags “Strike up reform” and “The corrupt government does not represent me”. Photos and messages about the hunger strike are being shared using the hashtag “Iraqi hunger strike”. Churches were included in the list of designated hunger strike locations and activists have distributed photos of Christian Iraqis taking part, an important indicator that they wish their movement to be considered inclusive and pluralist.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This messaging demonstrates how the movement continues to foster its nonviolent image. Similar messaging is evident in the activities of the Saraya al-Salam, the Sadrist Trend’s armed wing. The continued operation of an armed group in parallel with a resolutely nonviolent street protest movement requires careful management, real and perceived. At present at least, the distinction between the two entities is made clear by their purposes: pressuring the government for political reform, and defending holy sites against attack by the Islamic State terrorist group. There are challenges and contradictions, of course, and I’ll discuss some of these in a subsequent post.

The current strike actions, while symbolically important and gaining traction on social media, don’t seem to have had an effect on the government. What these multi-day activities allow for, however, is increasing social media interaction, including on a new platform, between protest participants and observers. Messaging is consistent, clear, and well coordinated. The audience seems to be other Iraqis, moreso than the government. Perhaps more importantly, these actions bring people together in places where they can discuss politics (and, no doubt, football) and perhaps engage in networking and protest organising. After all, the principle of shala’ qala’ means increasing the pressure on the corrupt political elite. There’s a good chance that the primary purpose of the current action is to prepare for the next step in the movement’s escalation.