‘Total terror’ in Iraq: Muqtada al-Sadr supporters battle Baghdad rivals amid political stalemate


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FRIEND GOOD MAN: This is Democracy now!Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to Iraq, where dozens of people were killed in fighting on Monday after powerful Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced his resignation. The Washington Post reports that, in quotes, “for 24 hours the loyalists…turned the country’s government green zone into a front line,” no quotes. At least 30 people were killed, hundreds more injured. On Tuesday, al-Sadr gave a speech calling on the forces to withdraw. The fighting has now all but ceased and protesters supporting al-Sadr’s rivals have also withdrawn from their demonstration outside the government area. Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said on Tuesday he could leave his post.

PRIME MINISTER MOSTAFA AL-KADHIMI: [translated] And I warn that from now on, if they want to continue to stir up chaos, strife, discord and strife and not listen to the voice of reason, I will take my moral and patriotic steps by announcing the vacancy of the prime minister at the appropriate time, in accordance with Article 81 of the Iraqi Constitution, and hold them accountable to Iraqis and to history.

FRIEND GOOD MAN: The formation of a new Iraqi government has been stalled since parliamentary elections in October, where al-Sadr’s Sadrist Movement won the most seats but failed to secure an outright majority. Al-Sadr supporters had occupied Iraq’s parliament since late July in a bid to prevent lawmakers from choosing a new prime minister.

To find out more, we travel to Baghdad to speak with Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

Welcome back to Democracy now! The last day’s bloodshed was horrible. Looks like it’s calmed down now. This happened in the green zone, where the Iraqi parliament, US embassy, ​​other embassies and government buildings are located. Can you talk about the significance of what happened, who is fighting and what it means for the future?

YANAR MOHAMMED: The importance of this reminded us that the powers that have come – the political parties that have come to power are really just militias that can’t talk about politics, don’t understand democracy, don’t understand what resign once you don’t win. So the only way to solve this problem was to take to the streets, invade the presidential palace and the parliament. And on the last day, they took with them all their machine guns and heavy machinery, and they ransomed the entire Iraqi people. We all lost our well-being and were afraid. We ran to our houses. People were buying as much bread as they could to keep at home, because it was like a civil war, like the outbreak of a civil war. We were reminded that those in power do not care about the welfare of the people and they use all possible means just to gain power. They don’t care about people’s lives, about our well-being.

And a piece of information here: He didn’t just stay in the Green Zone, the clashes. The clashes took place around the city of Baghdad and in the — not in government buildings but in political party centers in other cities as well. So, for nearly 24 hours, we had to relive the war situation, where we were all terrified, helpless, sitting in homes and glued to our televisions, just waiting for a word from the heads of trouble for us to resume our normal lives. .

And what is strange is that those who started the demonstration which led to clashes, killings and bombardments around the city, no one dares to challenge them or speak ill against them. It’s like reliving the era of Saddam Hussein, where everyone is afraid of one person, and no one dares to say anything. It’s a terrible situation.

I know that in the West, everyone watches series. But this series of terror in which the Iraqi people live is endless – since the occupation, since Bush the father, then Bush the son, then the sectarian war, and now this one. We don’t deserve to live in this situation. I’m sitting at work now, and we have no electricity. We had to bring our own gadget to generate electricity. After 19 years, after the occupation, we still have no electricity. We have to dig a well to be able to water our garden. Iraq, although it has the resources that can provide money to three or four countries in a situation of wealth, but we live in poverty. We are barely making ends meet.

And those in power — and they didn’t come to power by accident. Iraq was expected to have a ruling theocracy, part of which is backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the other part is local but is a sectarian medieval power. And these two powers both have very powerful militias that took all their machine guns, their mortar shells, and they started shooting at each other. And once some of them fired over the US embassy in the green zone, the C-RAM system picked up the mortars and sent them back to the town where the shots were coming from. Thus, we lived a day of total terror. We had flashbacks of what we experienced during the first American occupation, then the second. And it seems that Iraq is supposed to live in these situations for a very long time.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Yanar Mohammed, could you — supposedly Muqtada al-Sadr’s party won the most seats but was unable, for months and months, to form a real government. Could you explain why there has been so much difficulty through the legislative route to try to form a government that can begin to meet some of the needs of the Iraqi people?

YANAR MOHAMMED: The government, as it was initially constituted, and which dragged on in the next round of elections, was supposed to gather a large majority to form the government. And this large majority, the number of seats he needed to form the government, he was unable to obtain. And at the same time, these two largest Shia Islamic factions have had a history of fighting with each other. So if they had been together, the government would have been in place now and would have worked and functioned. But because they can’t get along, Moqtada al-Sadr, when he joined his efforts with the Sunni blocs and the Kurdish blocs, the party of Erbil — we call it the party, that’s is the KDP of Erbil — their numbers were not even enough to form a government.

And once he couldn’t, that man can’t take no for an answer. Once he could not form the government, he ordered – and I say, “ordered” – his whole party, or all the members of his list, to withdraw from the government, and without no discussion. He just talked about it in the evening and he told everyone to leave the government. And once he left the government and it was time for the others to form the government, he still couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and he took all his supporters to the streets with a protest for an entire month. . And when that didn’t bring any results, because justice decided that the government could still be formed with others, he started to fight. He says something new every other day, and no one dares to challenge him. I mean, it’s a terrible situation.

FRIEND GOOD MAN: And he quit before and came back. And to be clear, this is fighting between Shiite militias. But I wanted to ask you — we only have a minute, and I wanted to ask you — while much attention is being paid to the United States, the first anniversary of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the longest war of the United States, the United States has thousands of soldiers in Iraq, what, something like 2,500, in this 19th year of occupation of Iraq, the American occupation. What role does the United States play in this? And that’s where we’ll end.

YANAR MOHAMMED: They do not play an important role. There is a general feeling that the negotiations between the United States and Iran, and all the pressures from both sides, are implemented on Iraqi lands, because the bloc of Nouri al-Maliki, which is fighting against Muqtada al-Sadr, is an Islamic State of Iran proxy, while Muqtada al-Sadr and the blocs around him are on the other side. Muqtada al-Sadr’s group wants to be local, but its other groups are supported by the American side. So we’re sandwiched between the two, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution any time soon.

FRIEND GOOD MAN: Yanar Mohammed, we would like to thank you for being with us, President of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, speaking to us from Baghdad.

Ahead, as President Biden calls for an assault weapons ban and more funding for police, we’ll talk to UCLA Professor Robin D. G. Kelley. The 20th anniversary publication of his book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, the book has just been released. Stay with us.


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