Dear Neocons: Iraqis still don’t feel liberated: Iraq’s Sunni Arab Spring

Demonstrations and rallies began being held in the largely Sunni Arab province of al-Anbar and spread to Samarra (Salahuddin) and Nineva in Iraq on December 26. Sometimes crowds flew the flag of the Free Syrian Army, with which Iraqi Sunnis often identify, since the FSA is fighting a Shiite-dominated regime.

The Sunni Arab youth are chanting, “the people want the fall of the regime,” in emulation of the revolutionary crowds two years ago in Tunisia and then Egypt. The initial protests concerned the arrest of 10 bodyguards of the Finance Minister, Rafi al-Issawi, on suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

On Sunday, 3 people were injured in a melee that broke out when deputy prime minister Saleh Mutlak attempted to address angry demonstrators in al-Anbar. Mutlak is a prominent Sunni Arab and a member of the Iraqiya political party. The angry crowds cut him no slack for being a Sunni Arab. What enraged them was that Mutlak serves with al-Maliki at all. They pelted Mutlak and his entourage with stones and empty bottles, driving them away.

Aljazeera English has a video report:

Among the demands of the angry crowds are

  • that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (a Shiite) cease being a puppet of neighboring Shiite Iran,
  • that the Shiite-led government release the thousands of young Sunni Arab men and women it has arrested (they say arbitrarily),
  • that the banning of the Baath Party cease and former Baathists be allowed to reenter public life under a general pardon
  • Better services from the government

Thy allege that Sunni young women imprisoned by al-Maliki’s forces are raped in prison. Al-Maliki said Monday morning that the women prisoners would be released. The practice of arbitrarily arresting thousands of Sunnis who happened to be in the vicinity of attacks began under the US military when it occupied Iraq. In 2007 there were some 25,000 Iraqi prisoners, mostly Sunni Arab, in US prisons in Iraq, and 25,000 in the hands of the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Shiite member of parliament Abd al-Salam al-Maliki, representing the ruling State of Law coalition of PM Nouri al-Maliki, warned that elements of the Free Syrian Army and al-Qaeda might come over the border to Falluja, Samarra and Mosul, and infiltrate the demonstrations, using them as a cover to commit terrorist attacks. MP Abd al-Salam’s statements are outrageous, since there is no Free Syrian Army operating in the Sunni areas of Arab Iraq, and he is attempting to tar the demonstrators with the brush terrorism.

His remarks reveal the close connection Baghdad sees between instability in Syria and instability in Iraq, in both cases, the MP alleged, driven by nothing more than American hatred of the Shiites.

Some of the slogans and demands of the demonstrations have evinced nostalgia for Sunni rule of Iraq, and there have even been rumors that the crowds want to fly the Saddam Hussein version of the Iraqi flag. The USG Open Source Center paraphrased a report on Dec. 28 in Al-Sabah newspaper “citing Al-Anbar Governor Qasim al-Fahdawi as affirming that during their telephone conversation yesterday, 28 December, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki agreed to transfer the cases of alleged raped female prisoners to the Al-Anbar Court of Appeal. The report cites Salah al-Ubaydi, spokesman for Shiite Leader Muqtada al-Sadr, as regretting the raising of sectarian slogans at the demonstrations staged in the Al-Anbar Governorate. The report cites Hakim al-Zamili, parliament member for the Al-Ahrar Bloc, as saying that his trend does not participate in demonstrations raising the former regime’s flag. The report focuses on the demonstrations staged in Al-Ramadi and Mosul yesterday [Dec. 27].”

Iraq was ruled by a Sunni-dominated Baath regime 1968-2003, which was overthrown by George W. Bush. Under American rule, the majority Shiites came to power. They instituted ‘debaathification,’ politically banning many Sunni Arabs.

8 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    It begins to look as if this piece by Henri Barkey is more of less on the money.

    link to the-american-interest.com

    I suspect we are seeing the overspill that most reputable observers have been dreading as the worst possible outcome of the Syria mess.

    Patrick Seale catalogues the problems in the Kurdish areas in his latest piece and it begins to look like a return to chaos throughout the area. Except, of course, for a small strip of land between the Jordan and the sea.

  2. “…the Saddam Hussein version of the Iraqi flag.”

    When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, he affixed, in his own Arabic handwriting, the phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) to the official Iraqi flag. One of his apparent motivations was to identify himself with Islam.

    After his overthrow, the new regime in Baghdad left the phrase on the flag but replaced Hussein’s handwriting with the Kufic script. The Iraqi flag is rarely desecrated due to this phrase remaining on it.

    The Sunni Muslims were the big political losers, with the gains of the Kurds and Shi’ites being at the expense of the Sunnis. Saddam Hussein’s top military leader, General Amir Drori, has never been captured, and the virtual exclusion of the Sunnis from the post- U.S. invasion government has been an organizing principle of ongoing insurrection within Iraq. The most powerful figure in Iraq since the deposing of Saddam Hussein has been the Shi’ite imam Ayatollah Sistani – although the Western press seemed to focus upon the less influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Sistani has eschewed an intense political role other than to support equal political representation for all Iraqis.

    In a perfect world for the U.S. – the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency-organized and financed group of Iraqi exiles known as the Iraqi National Congress would have been flown in and installed as the new government in 2003 – and that organization still exists with its own website, however is a miniscule political force within Iraq currently.

    It would behoove the U.S. and the current Iraqi regime to extend the same type of amnesty and “olive branch” to the Sunnis as the America did to the Confederate citizens after the Civil War. It is a time for reconciliation – nine years of ostracism is enough.

  3. I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned it, but the term “Arab Spring” was first invented by the neocons to refer to 2005, when the Iraqi elections were totally setting of an era of democratic reform throughout the region, as the people of the MENA region looked at newly democratic Iraq and said, “Oh, yeah, I wanna get me some of that.” I swear to God I’m not making this up:

    link to seattletimes.com

    The Arab Spring of 2005 will be noted by history as a similar turning point for the Arab world.

    It would be funny, if it weren’t for all the dead people.

    • The term ‘Arab Spring’ was used by a conservative French journalist to refer to the post-colonial nationalist movements of the 1950s.

  4. off topic, but, end of the year, so……

    Thanks very much Prof. Cole for your interesting, well written, and informative site.

  5. The demonstrations in Anbar are a result of the negligent and corruption of the central government and the general trend of the Sunni-Shia polarization in the region in general. It is also important to note that regional actors, namely Saudi Arabia, pressing their loyalists to take advantage of the frustration of the Anbaris to pass their own agenda through.

    In addition, the demands outlined above do not include all the demands of the Anbaris. They are also demanding the remove of Maliki, which is not reachable at the moment (Political agenda). Despite all the opposition from both Sunnis and Shias, Maliki cannot and will not be removed from office.

    For Sunnis, going back to violence proved to be devastating and impractical, hence the death toll, the number of prisoners, and did not reach any of their designated goals. Therefore, Sunnis must pursue non-violent tactics to reach their goals.

    Iraqi Sunni Arabs must realize that what they need is a new leadership, one that can be acceptable to the Shias politicians and people. Essawi, Mutlik, Hashimy, Delimy and others were involved in the sectarian violence in the past years and they make it even harder to bring the two parties together. (This also applies to many Shia leaders). Therefore, a more moderate leadership, such as al-Samara’i, would make the two parties accept each other, without remembering the bloodshed of 2006 and the assassinations carried out by politicians.

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