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Iraq's protesters: "No one cares about us but we continue our revolution"

Protesters in Baghdad. The interview was conducted with a demonstrator in Wasit. (Photo by Kareem Botane)

Iraq’s protests: “No one cares about us, but we will not stop our revolution”

What follows is an interview with a protester in Iraq conducted on February 9, 2020 in Wasit governorate who wanted to discuss the challenges the movement faces after months in the streets. He speaks out during a complex time when Muqtada al-Sadr and political groups such as the Fatah Alliance have sought to deter the protests. More than 600 protesters have been killed and up to 20,000 injured.

When did you join the protesters?

I have been involved since two months ago.

What has changed recently?

There is no change, people are in streets, facing government, the government [forces are] shooting; chaos in streets, militias linked with government and police [are opposing us]. In the last two weeks someone has been shot in head and 20 injured [in our city]. Police say they use plastic bullet but they shoot at the head and use tear gas canisters to target people. It is dangerous in the streets, some of those from the Communist party and civilians are in danger. We get threats and fear we will be killed at any time. I carry a personal defense with me. Some carry sticks. Some of us have tried to close all the government offices. They say there is no work.

What is the age of most protesters?

Most of us are young.

Why this year?

This time was too much corruption in government. They decided to go out and the first flames began in this way. When they removed General [Abdul Wahab] al-Saadi. People called for their rights and his rights. The government began shooting people. People say they won’t stop even if there is bloodshed, which happens everyday.

What is the role of militias, such as the Hashd al-Sha’abi?

They occupy everything. They hide among the protesters. They try to record us. They call us traitors and say we receive money from the US embassy. All of the militias are enemies. Sadr was once with the people but now he has shifted. His party has changed. Some say he takes his interests from the government. So he turned on the people. No one trusts him.

And Ayatollah Sistani?

The people respect Ayatollah Sistani. So he supports our rights. People like him.

What do protesters say about the new Prime Minister-designate, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi?

No one likes or wants Allawi. He is a cousin of Sadr, no one wants him.

Who would you want as Prime Minister?

We need a prime minister, someone who has loyalty to Iraq and most of them are not loyal, they are loyal to Iran, so no one wants them.

What is the view of Iran?

Iran has occupied Iraq: The economy, the military, everything. They destroyed the country. The protesters call it a Revolution against corruption.

And the view of America?

They don’t want Iran or America. They want a united Iraq.

What about the former regime of Saddam Hussein?

Saddam destroyed Iraq. He delivered it to Iran and the US.

So is there any era of Iraqi history they look to for inspiration or they see as good, what about Adb al-Karim Qasim?

They miss the Kingdom.

When you speak about militias, can you specify which are the specific problem in the government?

Actually the Iraqi government is a group of militias. The Iranian militias, they are all from Iran, they have different names.

And your family? People here must have been members of other parties, some linked to the Hashd?

My family agree with me. They are worried. But they support me. Many of the Hashd soldiers are in the streets and protesting. You must understand the Hashd, the soldiers were Iraqi but the leaders were Iranian. Many former soldiers of Hashd were killed in the protests.

What about Mosul other Sunni Arab areas and the Kurdish region? They are not protesting, what is the feeling about that?

In the Sunni areas they are afraid of the government. In the past they have rebelled, for instance during ISIS. The government persecutes Sunnis if they protest, they call them ISIS. You find Sunnis in the streets though in the protests.

And the Kurdish region?

The Kurdish region is not interested in changing the government, they have their own interests.

Now with the coalition of Sadr and Amiri, Badr and others against the demonstrations, how will this affect the protests?

The people will stay in the streets. It’s not clear. We don’t know what will happen.

Do you see any hope in international support?

The UN doesn’t care.

Why don’t the protesters have a clear leader or candidate to put forward?

The protests don’t have a leader. If they choose a leader he will be killed. Militias will kill him.

There are local leaders though like Dr. [unclear first name] Rakabi in Nasiriyah.

There doesn’t seem to be much nostalgia for the past or for any particular current party, why is that? Do they see a link with the so-called Arab Spring protests of 2011, an inspiration there?

No. This is a new revolution and new generation; most are in are in their teens or twenties. The oldest is 25 here.

And this protest is critical of religion in politics, sectarianism?

Many here are for separating religion and state, they want it to separate. They want a civil government.

What government in the region could they model that after? Tunisia? Turkey?

They wish to be a part of Europe. They want a civil government, like Dubai is, for instance.

Do you receive any support from regional governments?

No one cares or supports us. There is no support from the region.

And you sleep here in the tents or at the protest locations?

Most of us sleep in the camps.

Let me just go back to this issue of militias, when you say Iranian-backed or led by Iran, is there a specific one such as Khorasani or Asaib or Kataib, Badr, etc that you mean when you say that, is there a difference in which are suppressing the demonstrators?

All of the militias are under Iran. Different faces, one name. Badr and Asaib are well known here. They track people.

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