Today the Baghdad streets look no different than when the U.S. invaded in 2003. If anything, it is more apocalyptic. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, 319 protesters have been killed and 15,000 wounded in the violence since Oct. 1 when Iraqis started hitting the streets in anger over what they see has a predominantly Shiite government so corrupt it cannot provide jobs, clean water, health care and basic security to its people.
While the media’s eyes have been turned to ongoing street demonstrations in Hong Kong and Lebanon, Iraq’s have progressed virtually under the radar, despite the fact that they are increasingly more violent as the government is actually using force to quell them. The aforementioned human rights commission there has reported the use of live fire, tear gas, stun grenades and sound bombs. Human Rights Watch has accused the Iraqi military of targeting medics attempting to give aid to the wounded with live fire and tear gas. On Thursday security forces “used live rounds, rubber bullets and fired tear gas canisters in a bid to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.” One protester died immediately and another died from wounds from a stun bomb.
Tahrir Square (“Liberation Square” in Arabic), was the scene of an even bloodier crackdown late last month. Thousands of people came out to protest the government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who has been in office for a year. But the anger of the people has been festering all over the country for some time. As we know, the Sunni provinces have been plagued by poverty, unemployment, and until recently, ISIS. American forces, after using young Sunni men (otherwise known as “sons of Iraq”) to push out Al Qaeda in 2008, left them high and dry in the hands of a authoritarian Shiite state. But it is the Shia in the capital and the south now who are leading the protests, charging that the elites in the government are hoarding the national resources while regular Iraqis cannot seem to climb out of the destitution imposed on them through war, corruption and sectarian conflict.
It’s more than worth noting that the United States spent billions of dollars and sent thousands of troops, contractors, consultants, diplomats and all manner of do-gooders over to that country between 2003-2009 to help set up a stable, democratic government. Many of us knew it was a farce to begin with since we never asked the Iraqis what they wanted. TAC’s own Peter Van Buren, then a State Department official tasked with “winning Iraqi hearts and minds,” wrote a whole book about how all of our efforts, and especially our money, went down the drain. He witnessed it personally. It was clear to him then that the grifters on both sides had set in and were siphoning off everything for themselves. The Iraqi grifters are still in charge, and because they never took our “democracy project” very seriously, are responding to their opposition the only way they know how: with bloody force. The grifters on our side? They’re still buzzing around the Washington Beltway, trying to pretend Iraq never happened.