Saturday, August 29, 2015

West of Eden: Give a soldier a flower

Tahrir Square, August 7, photo by Khalid Mohammed/AP.
Scenes from Baghdad over the past week, h/t Nancy Le Tourneau for pointing to them. It seems there is some real mass politics taking place in the Iraqi capital and the mainly Shi'ite cities to the south, with huge demonstrations protesting corruption and the failure of government to provide essential services, in particular the electricity supply (in the global-warming hottest year in history), which is apparently still failing all the time the way it did ten years ago at the height of the war. The Times just picked the story up (from Reuters) today.

Prime Minister Abadi has offered a reform package, dumping some officials from the featherbedding cabinet (including three vice presidents and three deputy prime ministers). Ayatollah Sistani has lent his voice to the movement, issuing a formal demand at morning prayers yesterday in Karbala that the government show it is seeking genuine change, not just cosmetic adjustments, in the fight against corruption.

Moqtada al-Sadr, the "radical cleric" as the US media always call him, whose father ran the most significant opposition to Saddam Hussein back in the day until Saddam's thugs murdered him in 1999, and who now runs the Sadrist movement himself, is also involved; black-clothed Sadrists join the demonstrations chanting "Bye-bye Nuri al-Maliki" (the wicked old violently sectarian and extraordinarily corrupt Bush-era prime minister and one of the sacked vice presidents, who has been plotting a comeback, as I rather thought he might).

That's a good sign that there's some real politics going on, along with the most heartening thing, that everybody, mullahs included, is calling most loudly for secularism. I'm not seeing at this point any references to participants who aren't Shi'ites, which may mean ethnic cleansing has been so thorough that there aren't any non-Shi'ites left in the areas that are really under government control, but we'll see. Another thing about Moqtada, remarkable for the consistency with which he has remained equally anti-Saddam and anti-US, is the way he's been reaching out to Sunnis over the last few years.

If this really comes out in any way as a democratization of Iraq ("How many Arab protestors are able to pull this off?") it will be in my mind a tremendous vindication of Obama's policy—where the Bush administration tried to control the Baghdad government in great detail but always ended up giving them whatever money they wanted, the current administration forces them to make their own mistakes but demands some accountability in return for funding, particularly with that issue of integrating Sunnis. Strange moment to feel hopeful,  at this time of official rape manuals, and renewed blowing up of antiquities in Syria and markets in Iraq, but I do.

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