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Hayder is a Researcher at the Centre for Academic Shi’a Studies. He is also a postgraduate student at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter @Hayder_alKhoei

We are not all Ba’athists

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we have witnessed an unprecedented and simultaneous awakening by people who have shocked the world and rattled the thrones of dictators who have been in power for decades on end. In Iraq’s Day of Rage, tens of thousands have taken to the streets demanding change. However, the nature of the calls for reform in Iraq are drastically different from those we heard in Tunisia or Egypt, and those we continue to hear in Bahrain, Iran, Yemen and Libya.

In these countries, the people have openly called for the ousting of authoritarian leaders who do not represent their people. In Iraq the ruling elite have only recently been democratically elected into office and they need not fear their people as Ben Ali or Mubarak did.

It is high time the elite in Iraq recognize their failures openly and publicly and apologise for the lack of basic services that the Iraqi people continue to demand. The government in Iraq must stop making the same mistakes other leaders across the region have made when it comes to labelling their angry people as agents of foreign states who have hidden agendas. In most countries, anyone demanding rights is, by default, accused by government loyalists of being an American or Zionist traitor to his country.

In Iraq, the catchall term used to define anyone unhappy with the current situation is ‘Ba’athist’ or worse still, ‘terrorist’. Governments have become masters in deflecting blame and finding scapegoats to pretend nothing can be done whilst the ‘enemy’ is present. In Iraq, this dangerous phenomenon has reached hysteric levels and only makes the people even angrier. As if anyone demanding a few more hours of electricity a day, or calling for his or her neighbourhood to be clean, is being influenced by the Ba’athists who want the return of an oppressive military dictatorship.

Of course there is a danger of protests being hijacked by terrorists who want to destablise the country, but that doesn’t give a right to any government to quash them in their entirety in the name of national security. There is also a chance of mosques being hijacked by Muslim extremists who preach nothing but hatred, but does mean the Iraqi government should ban all of them in the name of peace?

Demanding better services, and indeed demanding essential political reforms that tackle the corruption and nepotism that plagues Iraq is not the same thing as wanting the return of the Ba’athist regime. By deliberately equating the two, the government makes it much easier for the security services to crackdown on innocent protesters in the name of fighting terrorism.

Iraqis should be proud that whilst they have jumped on the anti-establishment bandwagon that has swept the region, they are unique in that they are already one step ahead of their neighbours. The sooner the Iraqi government recognises that the people have real demands that must be met, the easier it becomes for them to deal with the problem, and the easier it becomes for the people to vent their frustrations. Instead of simply making excuses, the mere acknowledgement of peoples legitimate claims at least sends a signal that they have received the message.

Shooting protesters, issuing curfews, detaining journalists, raiding press offices and harassing intellectuals is precisely the same tactics employed by the previous regime that the government, ironically, is claiming what come back to power if the people are manipulated. Maliki’s recent ultimatum to his cabinet seems to be nothing more than appeasement and an effort to buy time. Maliki’s ill-advised move is proof that the government does not understand what the people want. The people are not calling for a cabinet reshuffle; they want rights and services and not simply new faces.

Everyone and his brother in Iraq owns an illegal weapon, but the fact that the protests have remained largely peaceful is proof of the good-hearted intentions of these disenfranchised and disillusioned masses calling for change. I am not going to be sensationalist by attempting to compare Maliki to Saddam, but the despicable behaviour of the Commander-in-Cheif’s security forces are taking Iraq down a very dangerous slope. The protests are not going to be peaceful forever if they continue to be subject to brutal mukhabarat-style harassment.

5 Comments on “We are not all Ba’athists”

  1. Ahmed Al-Saeed February 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    Thanks Hayder for this post.. We’re sick of Ba’thists and terrorist hijacking our lives, and a government that hijacks our demands in the same manner their very enemy does. When will the government of Iraq act like a government and not like the exiled opposition they used to be? What would Maliki have lost if he let the media cover the peaceful demonstrations? Any misleading channel would be easily ignored just like Al-Jazeera and Baghdadiya are always ignored. The fact that the demonstrations were peaceful in large shows how power-hungry and incompetent our elected government is. Let’s hope they’ll learn the lesson next Friday!

  2. Najla March 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Since it is International Women’s Day…..why is there so little iraqi women writing on this site?

    Something other than a male insight would be appreciated from time to time…

    (otherwise good post!)

  3. LionOfBabylone March 8, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    I agree with Haydar in many occasions. However there are some points that need to be made here:

    Although curfews and other measurements are used by dictatorships to put burdens in front of demonstrators, they are used, whether we like it or not, for the right reasons in Iraq. We know that the Ba’athis and Al-Qaida will definitely make any gathering of people, whether demonstrations or Ziyara’h, as a target.

    Second, there have been actually many people arrested with unauthorized weapons or forged weapon permissions.

    Those who went to demonstrations were not all Ba’athis for sure. However we know who called for the demonstrations making use of the wave coming from the region. Now all knew that, including the Marjeia, which explains their shy support.

    We need demonstrations. However when we go out we should know who it serves well at this moment. We don’t need to give the Ba’athis leverage for nothing.

    On the other hand, if people go out, even if they know that that Ba’athis have called for it, then I would say it the government’s fault. Because of the irresponsible and corrupt officials, people now miss Sadam’s time. The government in many occasions does do the Sadamists a favor by failing. No time for failure. It’s time to work.

  4. Sara April 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    The gov is searching for excuses in order to prevent democracy in Iraq, which is self-contradiction, because during these 8 years they have been speaking in the name of ”democracy”. Strange. They don’t realise that they, themselves are classified as Baathists, because of the way they use violent to stop protests.

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