There are permanent skepticisms about the sides who benefit from the protests engulfing the Iraqi cities from time to time. Demonstrations, in themselves, are important in light of the bad situation in which Iraq is now living, but there is fear that they will not lead to what people are looking forward. Protesters need to focus more on many other things to change Iraq’s reality during the upcoming years.
Despite the persistence of protests over the past years, they never met the ambitions of those who have for a long time called for achieving more positive shifts in the standards of living in Iraq’s big cities. In such a scene, we regularly discover that the only beneficiary is the same political forces that can always persuade people to take to the streets.
Various analysts assert that some of the protesters are not self-conscious enough to manage the general mainstream of social change in their cities. Members of this group cannot force the government to listen to their requirements. Thus, many researchers say that protests must also be planned and intellectually directed by others. This is one of the basic conditions for any social movement to succeed.
Observers further say that a small percentage of teachers, university students, and academics engage in the protests. They also assure that many young people involved in such events are ready to protest at any time, but the majority of them are not willing to open a page in a book to become more intellectually, socially and politically effective.
Moreover, different experts confirm that Iraq’s intelligentsia does not trust in political forces, nor do they believe in their promises to improve the political system. Hence, this class of the Iraqi community expresses its deep concerns of participating in these protests.
Here, I do not like to say in general that the educational qualifications of the protesters are totally limited, but instead, I would like to affirm that any arrogant power would be compelled to completely listen to the cultural elite when it becomes the power standing behind these protests. This alliance between the elite – which must not be corrupt – and common people can help all of them to not turn into a chess pawn in the hands of politicians who pretend the opposition to the government. This is what we do not see in these protests.
The numerical strength of protests in Basra and Baghdad has not led to the creation of any independent political organisation that can reflect the aspirations of these protests. This gives the impression that most of these protests are partisan, and therefore they surface and disappear surprisingly according to the orders of party leaders. This means that the phenomenon of protests is a politicised matter.
In this context, we can see that protesters do not admit the others to criticise their behavior, nor do they accept any reservations against their religious or political leaders. Demonstrators regard this trend as a stab in their identity, which is formed by being part of one of these big partisan protests. Thus, they might have a violent reaction against anyone who dares to subject this event to the neutrally scientific discussions.
Regarding the latest protests in Basra city, an important statement was made by the commander of police, Lieutenant General Rashid Flaih. He insisted that high-level security measurements would be taken to ensure the protests. He pointed out that more than 30 thousand security personnel will be linked in this plan to protect Basra’s oil fields and to secure the maritime port of the city.
The land transport lines connecting Basra with the other Iraqi cities would be also guarded, according to Flaih. This implies that the security cost of protests has become huge, and the security grip on the city might be more tightened so that it might put the future of protests at danger.
In such a scene, it is difficult to talk about development projects. No one can invest in a troubled city. No foreign company can work safely in this hostile environment in which the tribal and military standards prevail. Therefore, the economy of Basra city cannot be stimulated, and its people’s demands will not be fulfilled.
I fear that this case of struggle, existing now among political and social actors in this strategic city, might sweep over into the other parts of southern Iraq. In this vast area, people share the same indicators towards political life: resentment and the desire to change the ruling parties.
To achieve more domination, some powers that say they represent these disaffected populations are trying to exploit this situation through their attempt to overthrow the corrupt parties, which are accused of stealing public budgets of these cities. As a result, the political conflict that hides behind the popular protests in these cities may intensify.
Diyari Salih is an Iraqi academic with a Ph.D. in Political Geography from the University of Baghdad and a Post-Doctorate in International Relations from the University of Warsaw. His research focuses on geopolitical issues in Iraq.